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On Sports Betting: The Odds Are Against You

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Sport betting

In 1904, football was introduced in Nigeria by the British colonialists and the first football match was played. About a century after, the first popular sports betting company, Premier Lotto emerged. Eight years after, it was followed by NairaBet. In 2023, with the advent of smartphones and the internet, sports betting has evolved. There are now over fifty online sports betting sites with over 60 million Nigerians participating actively. 

The question here is: Why?

In a country with rising food and fuel prices, an ever-rising inflation rate, and 32% of the total population in poverty, why are there 60 million people betting actively?

The problem with sports betting 💰

A survey carried out on 507 male students in Imo state shows that about 57.2% of school-age children have gambled at least once in their lifetime and 77.6% of these have gambled in the past year. If these numbers are a reflection of the general population of the Nigerian student populace, we have a crisis on our hands.

If you’re familiar with the Cowrywise brand, you know how critical we are of gambling and other get-rich-quick schemes. We maintain that things like Ponzi schemes, pyramid schemes, MLM, gambling, and online sports betting only take money from you, they never help you build wealth. And by ‘build wealth’, we do not mean the ‘quick cash’ you make on a lucky day. We mean sustainable income. You cannot generate sustainable income from sports betting.

However, that’s not the only reason why you should not participate in betting. There are many more but before we delve into that, let’s return to the original sin, the big question, why are there 60 million Nigerians actively betting?

Why are Nigerians actively sports betting? 🤔

To understand this, I spoke to four people who bet to understand their motivation. As we explore their specific reasons, there are more general reasons why online sports betting is on the rise in Nigeria. Let’s explore three of these reasons:

Reason 1: Lack of job opportunities. 💼

As a country, we face a major challenge in terms of high youth unemployment rates, and many young people struggle to find stable job opportunities. This lack of job prospects can lead some to explore alternative ways to generate income. Sports betting becomes appealing because it requires minimal upfront investment (at least at the beginning) and can be done with basic resources like a smartphone and internet access.

The issue with this though is that, as opposed to being a solution to the problem of unemployment, sports betting is another problem on its own. Not only does it not offer a light at the end of the tunnel, it digs deeper and deeper until you’re unable to climb out. Most people who become gambling addicts don’t start out to become one. They start with one bet and then another and then another.

I spoke to Ibrahim, a Nigerian physiotherapist practising in London. Before he moved to London earlier this year, Ibrahim was into sports betting. When I asked him how it went, there were no happy tales.

“Had a brief run with it for like two years, on and off. I made a lot of money (it was a lot to me then, about 400k in one week), then started losing it gradually, was messing with my head. Made more bets. Lost almost half back to bets. It’s addictive.”

– Ibrahim

Chidi, a student from the University of Benin had a similar experience:

“I don’t really like betting, but then there was a certain period I went into betting because I was in a serious financial crisis and was DESPERATE to get out of it by any means. Although I made quite a lot of money from betting, I lost everything. It didn’t help me settle my crisis. I don’t bet anymore since I’ve settled the crisis, betting isn’t my thing.”

– Chidi

If you speak to a hundred gamblers, a consistent storyline you’ll find is this: they always lose the money eventually. The reason for this is not farfetched: gambling is not the way to build wealth.

Reason 2: Social and cultural influence. 👥

In a country where people are always talking about ‘urgent 2k’, ‘cash out’, and ‘quick cash’, it is no surprise that sixty million people are betting every other day. Generally, we don’t have a culture that frowns against making money at any cost. There are also people who believe you can make money from nothing.

We once set up a referral experiment to reward customers who refer their friends to Cowrywise with N1000. We did this in good faith, as a way of saying ‘Thank you’. What we did not anticipate was the hoard of customers who joined Cowrywise only to refer others so they could make money.

Everywhere across the web, content like ‘Make 100k on Cowrywise for free’ began to circulate. And they were gaining traction. Why? Because people are always looking for how to make big money ‘for free’, by doing nothing. Such is the society we live in.

Every other week on Twitter, there are stories of ‘blood money’, ‘spirit money’, etc. You can draw a straight line between mindsets like this and gambling. At the core of a gambler’s heart is the belief that one day, he will win big and that will change his life forever. It does not matter to him that he is not actively providing any value for which he should be compensated. All he does is bet and hope that he wins big. And sadly, there is a cultural backing for this type of thinking – winning big without working hard.

This is the mindset Wole, a graduate of LAUTECH, and one of the gamblers I spoke to explained below:

Lost close to 50k today and sometimes win close to 200k with 5k. These days, if I have my phone with me and haven’t placed a bet. It itches me that there’s something I should have done that is yet to be done. And sometimes when my ticket ticked green, the feeling is like a big uncle dashing you free money. No one is fine with losing money but I often comfort myself with the Yoruba adage that roughly translates as The farmer won’t have a better harvest unless he made some loss. When you win, the losses are forgotten not because you want to but because you have won now and why cry when you’ve won? And whenever I win, I’ll go ahead and purchase an item, a kind of souvenir that says, my winning bought this.

When I asked him if he was not worried he might be addicted, he said:

“Of course, it is addiction but gambling is another source of making money. Truth be told, I’ve lost more than I won and I’m optimistic about the big win that crosses all the losses. I’ll have to keep playing to know. If I stop, it is impossible to find out.”

What Wole does not seem to realize is that there is no big win coming from anywhere. In fact, what he calls a ‘big win’ is still less than all his losses combined. Why lose N20,000 ten times only to win N150,000 in one bet? The supposed big win is still less than the accumulated losses. And in the instances where the win is indeed massive, in millions, the money still goes back to betting. So where does it end with gamblers really?

Reason 3: The need to escape

The desire to escape is not really strange to Nigerians. Every other day on X (formerly Twitter), there’s someone screaming ‘Abi ki’n salo ni’ which loosely translates to, ‘Should I just run away?’ or ‘Should I disappear?’ People use this phrase when they’re going through a tough time and they’re considering all possible options; one that always comes to mind is escapism.

We all practice escapism to various degrees and through several methods. We are constantly seeking distraction or relief from the realities of everyday life, especially those that may be stressful, mundane, or challenging. I escape into fiction, some people use movies and parties to escape – just anything to remove themselves from their current situation if only for a while. Although escaping temporarily is not a bad thing, how you practice it matters. Escapism through gambling and sports betting is a bad idea.

Gamblers like those we’ve been studying use sports betting to avoid dealing with difficult emotions or emotional distress. Instead of confronting underlying issues, they immerse themselves in the excitement of gambling, using it as a distraction from their emotional challenges.

Engaging in gambling also gives them a sense of control over their decisions and outcomes, even though the results are ultimately based on chance. This illusion of control – because that’s what it is, an illusion – can seem empowering, especially for those who may feel powerless in other aspects of their lives.

“Hope is a dangerous thing, my friend, it can kill a man…” – The Shawshank Redemption

Perhaps the most dangerous part of escapism and sports betting generally is the fantasy of Hope: the idea of winning a significant amount of money or hitting a jackpot. While, as we’ve discussed above, this isn’t realistic; it can create a sense of hope and optimism for gamblers seeking an escape. For some, this hopeful outlook provides a break from the realities of their current financial situation or life circumstances.

Sports betting is the problem, not the solution

While gambling and sports betting may offer temporary relief and escapism, it is not a sustainable solution for addressing life’s challenges. In fact, excessive betting as a coping mechanism can and will lead to more significant problems, including financial strain, addiction, and emotional distress.

The last person I spoke to is a Medical Lab Science student at LAUTECH, Bode.

“I used to bet up to the point of addiction. At a point, I see myself not doing anything other than betting. I used my food money. I even used my project fee. Terrible my bro. I played bet to the point that I ran into debt. I was borrowing money from people I should not be borrowing from. From October last year to mid-January this year, betting messed me up.”

I later had to involve my parents and tell them the truth. They helped me pay some debt. There are some debts I am still paying right now up to 100k debt. I have friends who lost close to five million Naira. I started small, freestyling with 5k, then 10k. At a point, I had up to 200k in my account from betting alone oh. But I used it to bet again and lost it. And the type of betting we used to do then, SportyHero and Flew Away was very addictive.”

With betting, there is no happy ending.

So why are Sports Betting Companies thriving in Nigeria?

The answer is easy – the people. Nigerian sport betting platforms are thriving because of Nigerians. The platforms play on the financial ignorance in the society, the lack of job opportunities, the extreme poverty, the socio-cultural atmosphere, the need to escape and, most importantly, the fantasy of a big win coming.

Betting platforms set odds in a way that ensures they have an advantage over bettors in the long run. This means while some may win occasionally, the majority will lose money over time. This is how these companies stay profitable. The excitement of winning can lead to a psychological phenomenon known as “positive reinforcement,” which encourages people to continue betting despite the overall likelihood of losing money, just like Wole shared above.

a poll on sport betting

For those who find themselves using betting as a form of escapism, it’s essential to seek healthier and more constructive ways to cope with stress and emotions. Professional counselling, support from friends and family, engaging in hobbies or activities that bring joy, and developing healthy coping strategies are all healthier alternatives to sports betting as a means of escape.

What next?

If you’re seeking an alternative to sports betting, we have just the one for you. Instead of throwing your money into the whirlwind and hoping a ‘big win’ will come back, why not try saving a certain amount every time your team or favourite footballer scores a goal?

With Football Savings Goals on Cowrywise, you can express your love for football in a healthy way. Join thousands of Nigerians saving hundreds of millions every season on Football Savings Goals. Start supporting your football club the right way. Start here.


ONGOING: Cowrywise Football Savings Goals is back for another season!

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