Sunday Magazine

Gambling as youths’ new addiction

•2017: 10,000 outlets registered with 100,000 participants –LSLB
•Gambling’s mental health problem may lead to depression, death
–Psychologist •Addiction worse than drug abuse –Psychiatrist
•‘33 promoters registered in 2018’
•Short-term damage control needed –Dr. Mustapha

 

With the increasing rate of youth unemployment in the country, Nigeria’s youths are now investing their time, money, and intrinsic efforts in several gambling avenues, such as Baba Ijebu, Naira Bet, Western Lotto Bet, Bet9ja, 1960bet, and Nairabet among others. These commitments provide them with financial resources to meet daily expenses, augment low incomes arising from unemployment. Yet, the psychological and psychiatric problems that come with it can only be imagined than experienced. CHIJIOKE IREMEKA reports

 

Recently, a 19-year-old Ahmed Ogunshola showed serious signs of an addicted gambler.

 

He gambled with a sum of N18, 400 given to him by his neighbour, Mr. Sunday Obiora, with an instruction to help him renew his DStv’s subscription upon expiration. Instead of using the money for the purpose it was meant, Ahmed strolled into a Bet9ja Sports betting centre, played big games with the money and disappeared into thin air when he didn’t win a dime. Instead, the N18, 400 was snuffed out of his pocket.

 

After hustle and bustle of Lagos daily life, Mr. Obiora came back with a high spirit and expectation to view his favourite football match but his excitement was dashed when he switched on his television and noticed he was still disconnected. Initially, he felt it was a network glitch and waited for some minutes for the network to improve, which never happened.

 

 

For about 30 minutes, he was still hopeful while getting ready for his dinner, which was already served. He didn’t know what had befallen his money.

 

Midway into his dinner, as the time for the match was approaching without any sign of network improvement; he tried checking his subscription status but discovered that his account hasn’t been credited. It was at this juncture that he felt something was fishy and reached out for his phone, dialed Ahmed’s number with a view to confirming the payment.

 

His suspicion became heightened when Ahmed’s phone rang severally without any response from him. He took a step further, called a DStv agent, who checked and informed him that nothing was paid into his account except for the payment he made a month ago which has expired.

 

At that point, he lost his appetite, washed off his hands, got off the table and headed for Ahmed’s house where Ahmed’s mother told him that he hasn’t been home since afternoon.

 

On a second thought, he felt Ahmed wasn’t able to make the payment and dropped a message with his mother for him to return the money when he comes back home. Unfortunately, Ahmed didn’t come back that night and not even in the morning before Mr. Obiora went out. Coming back in the night again, Ahmed hasn’t returned and there was no trace of him. He called his number again but Ahmed didn’t pick his call. Rather, he picked the call put across to him through his mother’s phone.

 

On hearing Mr. Obiora’s voice on his mother’s line, he hung up the call and refused to pick the repeated calls put across to him again. In anger, Mr. Obiora threatened to arrest him if he didn’t refund him the N18, 400 and reported the matter to Ahmed’s mother, who was startled at her son’s attitude.

 

She cried and appealed to Mr. Obiora to take it easy on her son, begging for more time for her to get the money and personally refund him. She thought that the money was still available, oblivious of the fact that it had been trashed at the gambler’s den. Upon inquiry, he told his mother that he spent the money to stake Bet9ja but failed to win until he exhausted it.

 

“They ‘ate’ my N500, and I wanted to win the money back, but the money finished before I knew it. I didn’t know how to tell Papa Ebuka that I used his subscription money for Bet9ja,” he told his mother of his dilemma. Not knowing what to do, the mother went to Mr. Obiora’s house, pleading and crying on behalf of her son not to be arrested and imprisoned as Mr. Obiora had threatened.

 

Two days later, she borrowed money to pay for her son’s thoughtlessness but looking at the widow, and her financial status, Mr. Obiora, whom she visited in his house, asked her to return the money to the owner as he had forgiven Ahmed and forgotten about the money though the shock had not left him. Painfully, Mr. Obiora had to cough out another N18, 400 (N36, 800) and personally went and renewed his subscription but Ahmed is still on the run for fear of what will befall him should Mr. Obiora set his eyes on him.

 

One week passed, two weeks, he was nowhere to be found. Thus, gambling has a great psychological effect on the people, especially when addiction is involved. Ahmed’s action is typical of what gamblers; especially the underage ones go through in order to gamble. Some of them find it difficult to concentrate at work, while others keep late night looking for what to do or sell in order to play lotto, Bet9ja, sports pools, Baba-Ijebu and Nairabet, among others.

 

According to experts, the evil of gambling is worse than substance addiction, yet the underage go into it. Gamblers lose valuables to raise money for gamble; they sell houses, cars, landed property and their inheritance just for them to gamble and exhaust their lifesavings, yet gambling never rewards them the way it depletes their treasuries.

 

“In an extreme case, when they have done all these and no hope in sight, it could lead to depression and eventual loss of life through suicide. Hence, there is the need for psychological and psychiatric evaluation and treatment of the gamblers identified with gambling harm,” said a consultant Psychologist, Dr Candyfidel Okoye.

 

He described gambling harm or problem as a continuous, uncontrollable gambling despite harmful negative consequences, especially when there are no specialist treatment centres for problem of pathological gamblers in Nigeria, saying that addiction of it is psychological and needs psychological or psychiatric treatment depending on the level of harm. Thus, new-fangled gambling technologies, such as various online gambling platforms, have provided extended and convenient opportunities for young people to gamble without any age restrictions.

 

Yet, gambling represents a danger to public health due to its inherent addiction potential. Locally and intentionally, governments across the world, policymakers and gambling industry have downplayed the budding gambling harm among the young people and even adults due to the revenue it generates. It’s a form of latent risk behaviour which can manifest even at a relatively young age.

 

Gambling, therefore, has increased its popularity as a recreational activity in many countries, especially among the youth, who currently live in a time where gambling is widely promoted and advertised both offline and online without awareness on gambling harm.

 

“With the increasing rate of youth unemployment in the country, Nigeria’s youths have invested their time, money, and intrinsic efforts in several gambling avenues,” said Dr. Oluwafemi Enilolobo of the Department of Economics, Accounting & Finance, Bells University of Technology, Ota, Ogun State.

 

“These commitments provide them with financial resources to meet daily expenses, augment low incomes arising from unemployment, and help mitigate the rising crime rate that results from the high unemployment rate.” He added that the overall unemployment rate for the population is 70 per cent, and youth unemployment accounts for about 58 per cent.

 

 

According to a psychiatrist, Chinyere Aguocha of Department of Internal Medicine, Imo State University, Owerri, Imo State, there is the need for a wider debate about gambling as a public health issue in Nigeria, involving key stakeholders such as academics, healthcare professionals, policymakers and the gambling industry.

 

She said positive action is required to minimise gambling-related harm to the people of Nigeria, saying that gambling activities, whether legal or illegal, are popular in Nigeria but the extant law, however, does not explicitly regulate underage gambling in the country.

 

Many Nigerians, she said, view gambling as a harmless leisure activity, but a recent study of the Nigerian general population found it harmful, saying that about 36 per  cent of adult Nigerians had gambled and 53 per cent of these people were daily gamblers. She argued that in near future, gambling in Nigeria, will be a greater public health problem than substance misuse, saying that illegal gambling, especially betting on football, is extremely popular in Nigeria although its precise scale is unknown.

She lamented that despite the nature and scale of this problem, gambling and its related harms have not been adequately addressed. Like in most countries of the world, she said, the minimum permissible age for gambling in Nigeria is 18 years, although most current gamblers in the country had started gambling from a very tender age of about 12 to 14 years.

Aguocha noted that Nigeria is one of the most competitive markets in gambling in Africa, noting that the size of the population and internet exposure of the residents create the right conditions for online gambling companies to thrive.

Sunday Telegraph observed that some of the legal bookmakers are available online in Nigeria including Bet9ja, 1960bet, Nairabet, 9jaPredict, and land-based Casinos among others, except for the traditional pools system and few others.

 

Oxford Language Dictionary portrays gambling as a betting or staking of something of value, with consciousness of risk and hope of gain, on the outcome of a game, a contest, or an uncertain event whose result may be determined by chance or accident or have an unexpected result by reason of the bettor’s miscalculation. According to the Gambling Act 2005, gambling is betting, gaming or participating in a lottery. That definition distinguishes between activities, which need to be licensed and other activities, which do not and it is categorised into different gambling activities. Some of them are Arcades (those for adults and those for families); betting (online, at an event or in a high street bookmakers); bingo (online or in a bingo hall); Casino (online or in a casino); Lotteries (raffles, tombolas, sweepstakes etc) and Gaming machines (fruit machines, fixed odds betting terminals etc). In Nigeria, gambling is regulated by the National Lottery Regulatory Commission (NLRC).

The lottery was legalised with the National Lottery Act, 2005 and gambling is defined by Chapter 22 of the Criminal Code Act enacted in 1990. The law splits the games into two categories: The legal and illegal games.

 

The legal games are lottery, land-based casino, and sports betting. Roulette, dice games, and non-skilled card games are viewed as illegal. The law also regulates slot machine activity and only licensed operators can provide slot machine gambling. It was learnt that all bookmakers are required to obtain a license from the gaming commission before operating in Nigeria, although Nigerian law does not mention online space and there is no restriction for the people to reach local or foreign gambling sites.

 

Philip Erhabor, an elderly motorist, started gambling at a very tender age of about 16 years, when he watched his father win a brand new blue 504 station wagon about 50 years ago, though he was making small wins but he hasn’t been rewarded with a big win like his late father.

 

He said: “Gambling is a great opportunity for someone who doesn’t have anybody that would help him to get to the top. It’s a way of lifting a hopeless man up when he wins. It’s a game of chance, luck and hope. People go to gamble hoping that they will win.

“I started with pool staking, making books. I won radio sets and television but I am hoping to win bigger things like my father. My father was able to build his house from money made from pool staking. He was a carpenter and didn’t have such money to do so.”

Erhabor, as a private driver, drives his madam to work and while his boss is at work, he finds time to dash into the pool office to make one or two numbers suspected to be the winning numbers.

He has equally spent fortune in gambling. Gambling, whether land-based pool or online, has always existed in Nigeria but was viewed as an antisocial activity in the past and was actively discouraged by the church, which warned against the quest for quick wealth.

 

Sunday Telegraph investigation to determine attitudes and perception of gambling found that, although gambling was perceived as a risky activity, it was believed to yield high returns and was thus, perceived as a means of earning money quickly.

 

For Ejimofor Ibenne, monetary gain, fuelled by greed, unemployment, economic hardship and poverty are the most potent motivating factors for gambling in 21st century and may act as a springboard to fuel criminality.

 

He noted that other important factors that push people to gambling whether youth or adults, are the pursuit of enjoyment, passion for sports and peer group influence, saying that friends engage in gambling to gain the acceptance of friends.

 

“The country is hard and money is not coming from anywhere. There is no job and there is no hope of getting any one in a country like Nigeria. I do all kinds of sports betting. I used to win but I have lost countless time. “When you win, you will be happy and when you lose, you will be sad. And many times, the anger of losing money will make you stay put to win back your money and you will end up losing more money unless you are lucky.”

 

Responding to the question whether he has won more than what he spent in gambling, he said: “I can tell you that I have won some money but what I will not tell you is how much I have lost in gambling but I am hoping that I will hit my jackpot soonest.”

 

On the illegal side of gambling, Ibrahim Ishakwu, in his early 20s, gambles with unskilled cards, which the 2005 Act considered as illegal. He plays cards with his fellow youths while putting money down.

 

“The amount to be dropped depends on the agreement with the fellow participants. Sometimes, we can bet N500, N1, 000, N2, 000 or more depending on those you are playing with. Also, some people might boast on who plays card better than the other and in the process, they will decide to bet.

 

This is where more money can come in,” he said. He stated that some days are better than others, saying that what he does is to be sure that he has a bright day to play; else he will stay aloof instead of losing money.

“Once I played a sure game but lost; and I played another one and lost to somebody I know that I am better than, I will stop playing because that is a sign that I do not have the bright luck for that day or moment. If I continue, I will lose money. It has happened to me severally and I have learnt from it,” he added. Mrs. Josphine Bieni is a gambler but plays only Baba-Ijebu. She said Baba-Ijebu has rewarded her several times and sometimes she loses.

 

“There is no time that I don’t play Baba- Ijebu. With 3 direct, you will predict three numbers. If the numbers come out, you will win. If one or two comes, you can’t win without the third number. If you play three direct with N100, you stand a chance of winning N210, 000,” she enthused.

 

Asked whether she collects sure numbers from mentally challenged people as people always say, she said: “People used to collect numbers from mad people.

 

Sometimes, they win and sometimes, they don’t. But for me, I don’t collect number from anybody. I play what my mind tells me. “In some cases, you see normal people behaving like madmen just for them to sell numbers to addicted gamblers. They make their daily livelihood from such deceit.

 

So, I do not patronise them. You have to give the mad person some money before he gives you numbers to play.” Bukola Adebowale does not gamble on a regular basis; she only gambles on raffle draws.

 

According to her, she used to purchase raffles for draw and in some cases, she buys a full booklet during church’s programmes and other events where raffle is drawn. “I have won Binatone blender and microwave in a draw. I have also won a power generator during our community programme. So, gambling is rewarding if you are lucky. But it doesn’t work for everybody,” she quipped.

 

According to the Journal of Gambling Issues, Volume 43, the gambling industry in Nigeria has grown substantially in household penetration and revenue generation.

 

Almost every household in the country has, at least, one member of the family who gambles.

 

The geometric growth rate of gambling, it stated, is astounding in terms of its availability, forms, and monetary equivalent, saying its various forms, including lotteries, casinos, gaming, and pool betting, differ in popularity among different groups and classes of people.

 

It noted that the year 2000 revolutionised the world of gambling in Nigeria as the industry embraced this tremendous growth in number of gambling organisations and participants by rapidly increasing activities and introducing various modes and facilities.

 

More so, according to the Lagos State Lottery Board (LSLB), in 2017, there were over 10,000 gambling outlets and over 100,000 participants in Lagos State alone.

 

Recently, football betting pools, a cultural import from 1920s Britain, are popular among Nigeria’s elderly, retired workers and the unemployed and have grown in popularity and remain the number one gambling activity in Lagos State and Nigeria in general.

 

As of March 2018, 33 promoters were registered to promote gambling. Gamblers risk their money on their ability to forecast the results of 49 league matches played across all divisions of the English football Leagues.

 

The matches are detailed on coupon sheets. Speaking on the effect of gambling on the welfare of Nigerian youths, Dr (Mrs.) Cynthia Obiora said: “Gambling can affect how you feel, no matter how much or how often you do it.

 

Betting pools have very much become an integral part of the Nigerian lifestyle and economy, where there is little understanding of how addictive and corrosive gambling can be.

 

 

“Negative effects of gambling include loss of employment, debt, crime, breakdown of relationships and deterioration of physical and mental health. At its worst, gambling can contribute to loss of life through suicide. Harms can be experienced not just by gamblers themselves.”

 

She noted that the worst aspect of gambling remains that many people with gambling-related issues go unrecognised and untreated, saying that those in whom it is identified as a problem get addiction treatment from existing substance use treatment centres and specialists.

 

On the way out, Dr. Saidi Mustapha said the productive time in school and in the workplace is lost as a result of gambling activities; hence there should be a short-term damage control to circumvent the likely production effects.

 

“Over proliferation of gambling outlets stimulates demand and increases exploitation of youths. Therefore, Lagos State needs to protect youths by identifying illegal gambling offices and placing sanctions on illegal outlets.

 

“Moreover, the government should increase the licensing requirements of gambling offices and reduce the license expiration period to three years to control and recertify gambling outlets.

 

“The negative impact of gambling on welfare through displacement and lost time from work and school remains perilous and therefore necessitates authoritative decisions.”

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