Gambling has been as old as the world. It is an agelong practice, surviving from generation to generation despite its strong religious condemnations. It is a practice that has continued to evolve and undergo modernisation.
However, in recent times, the allure of online betting has grown from strength to strength. It has destroyed marriages, rendered many families insolvent severed hitherto healthy friendly relationships, resulted in brutal fights among contemporaries and even pitched pals against each other. The havoc on families has been unimaginable.
Youths, adults, married, singles, men and women in the nation’s capital are not spared from the self-inflicted bug of gambling engulfing the residents of the FCT as many now rely on sports betting as a means of livelihood. In fact, the proliferations of betting shops in every part of the FCT and its suburbs bear eloquent testimony of the level of fixation and obsessions among the residents.
While it has become a money-spinner for some, it has equally turned to source of woes for others. Though reputed as an all-round the year money-spinner, sports betting habits by the residents of Abuja hit the peak during the ever-lively European football season with the correct predictions of the outcome of certain matches.
Apart from the blossoming outlawed cybercrimes, sports betting sites are now predominantly the most popular online ventures in the country, with football leading the chart as the most invested sports betting category in Nigeria and Africa.
Youthful exuberance alongside the inherent attraction to make money has propelled Abuja youths to dabble into all shades of sports betting ranging from soccer, basketball, formula 1 and virtual games (car racing) to the not so popular categories like polo, horse racing.
The betting odds and the amount of money staked are a few of the many factors considered in gaming, they determine how much money you make when you predict correctly. Usually, the teams who are favourites to win a certain match carry much lower odds in contrast to the underdogs’ higher odds.
At some FCT suburbs, including Mararaba, Masaka, Galadimawa, Mpape and Kuje, the fad and fascination surrounding betting is rife. As it is money yielding, it also comes with brutal consequences. Sometimes, it degenerates from hot arguments to full-blown physical battle.
Only recently, a fight broke out at a betting Bet Naija shop between friends who had a bet on the outcome of a Leicester City versus Arsenal match. It was only a virtual, reality game. Such is the fanaticism surrounding the world of betting game.
Narrating the circumstances that led to the physical combat, one of the young men at the centre of the scuffle told Daily Sun: “That boy is not serious; he must give me that money. He always feels too big, but I don’t care, this time I am getting my money. The whole thing started as a joke when he boasted that Arsenal will win a virtual game on show against Leicester City and that we should tender N500 each.
“I was reluctant at first, knowing who he was, but I was desperate to eat his N500. So, I opposed him and brought out my own money. Others who were there started encouraging us and, at the end of the match, Leicester City won.
“The mistake I made was not giving our money to a neutral person. I asked him for my money and he refused and even started insulting me, which got me angry me, which degenerated into a being physical.”
Abuja youths are the only ones in the grip of sports betting; some women, too, are now hooked. Micheal Adedeji, a betting shop owner on the outskirts of the capital city, confirmed that involvement of women in the game has increased in the last five years:
“I remember that you hardly saw women coming to place bets when I started this business in 2014. Today, the trend has changed as many women do not only play but also have good knowledge of the game. There was a day a young lady came here in jubilant mood because she cashed out close to N300,000.
“As a bet shop owner, it is difficult to know the largest amount that has been won in your shop unless such individuals come back to cash out in your shop or celebrate The largest amount I remember has been won was when a young boy, not more than 16 years, won N1.3 million. He was so elated, he could not believe it.”
The rich, it was gathered, are not immune from the betting obsession. They even prefer to stake huge amounts of money on few games with high odds in a bid to regain the amount staked and make more money in the process. It is in contrast to the middle and lower class who are accustomed to accumulating large number of games with intermittent odds and staking little amounts of money as low as N200.
Betting companies such as Naira Bet, Bet 360, Bet Naija, and others, have offices in both urban and rural areas all over the country. It is at these outposts that games are played and printed on a coupon for those who do not have access to internet, cash prizes are given out to the winners and customers’ complaints are laid.
Placing a wager on a game to make money seems a very easy challenge. But Henry, a 26-year-old indigene of Akwa-Ibom State, residing at Wuse Zone 2, said: “Betting is highly risky and scary at the same time, especially when your lunch depends on it.
“There is always something to be played everyday. Apart from weekends when we bet on the famous European leagues such as the English Premiership, La Liga and Seria A, we still get to bet on the not so popular leagues during the week such as the Hungarian league, Arabian and Slovakian football leagues.
“I am always restless whenever my bet has not clicked. Betting is highly risky and scary because most times if it does not work I will have no food to eat for the day.”
It was discovered that some of the youths captivated by the betting bug are mostly unemployed graduates. Silas Onyemaechi holds a B.Sc in International Rrelations from Anambra State University. He said: “I am just hustling and trying to make ends meet. If not for betting, hunger would have finished me.
“I graduated since 2015, without a job. Unfortunately in this country you need to know someone before you get a job and my parents are not rich, so I have no option than to hustle.” He appears not be in a hurry to dump the betting game.
One downside to betting is its addictive tendencies. With the current rate of unemployment in the country, who would fault the “addicts” for seeking greener pastures in this game?