When 16-year-old Abiodun Kalejaiye was first introduced to sports betting in January 2017, he felt reluctant to participate in the game as he had always imagined it a wasteful adventure. But after much persuasion by friends, he joined them to hang around the neighbourhood sports betting centre in Agege, Lagos.
Nine months after, he said, he now enjoys the game because it is fun and “very lucrative.”
“I first thought it was like MMM but I have realized that it (Sports betting) is very lucrative,” he told a PREMIUM TIMES undercover reporter who was at the sports betting centre in the guise of a naïve but interested bettor. “If you play with as little as N150, you can win as much as N5, 000 to N8, 000 or more depending on how the games ‘come’ out,” he explained further in Yoruba.
Abiodun’s participation in Sports betting, something legally reserved for adults above 18-years-old, is not unique, PREMIUM TIMES investigation reveals.
Section 34 of the National Lottery Act, 2005 stipulates that it is illegal for underage to be involved in betting.
“Any person who knowingly sells to any person under the age of eighteen years any ticket in a lottery operated by a licensee…commits an offence and shall be liable to conviction to a fine of not less than N20, 000 or imprisonment for a term of not less than one year or both such fine and imprisonment,” the law states.
But due to poor enforcement, thousands of underage teenagers like Abiodun, a SSS 2 student of a private secondary school in Tabon-tabon area of Agege, Lagos State, have taken to sports betting for varying reasons.
Many of these underage bettors narrate their reasons for venturing into sports betting to PREMIUM TIMES.
Abiodun is one of numerous underage bettors who patronise sports betting centres around the Agege area of Lagos and other parts of the country. For the regular sports bettor, the games include horse racing, dog racing, virtual sport, bike racing among others.
“The highest amount I won in this game was N15, 000 when I played ‘Aja-n-sare’ (the colloquial name for dog racing) but I always win unlike some of my friends,” Abiodun said in response to the reporter’s enquiry on what it takes to be a “winning bettor.”
“The game is profitable, I mean it’s lucrative,” another underage player, Lukumon Shaibu, told PREMIUM TIMES at a sports betting centre in Ijoko area of Ogun State.
Lukumon, who showed our correspondents various items – including a radio player, a mobile phone, a pair of sandal and a wrist watch – he bought with the money realized from sports betting, said he might not quit playing the game any time soon.
“I don’t know if I can ever quit,” the 17-year-old electrical engineering apprentice quipped. “This game provides me with almost everything I want and I don’t lack anything.”
In 2016, John Chukwudi, a resident of Oddo Street in Obalende area of Lagos, purchased JAMB examination form with money realized from sports betting. He has also successfully introduced other friends to the game in the last seven months because, according to him, the game is “profitable.”
“People can say all what they like but this game is very, very profitable,” he said. “I purchased JAMB form with the money last year but the result was poor. I will buy the form this year again – with Nairabet money!
“Once you too begin to play it, you’d realise what I mean,” Chukwudi, who clocks 18 by December, told our correspondent who had introduced himself to him as a prospective player.
Although many of the underage sports betting players said the act does not affect their education, PREMIUM TIMES found the claim to be largely untrue as some of them visit the centres during school hours.
UNDERAGE, VULNERABLE BETTORS
According to the Lagos Lotteries Board, which regulates sports betting in the Lagos State, Nigeria’s commercial capital, the terms and conditions governing lottery in the state stipulate that only those that are 18 years and above are eligible and all the operators are expected to have the signs in their centres. For those with scratch cards, it is stated on those cards.
At the entrance of some betting centres visited by PREMIUM TIMES in Lagos and Ogun states, there were bold inscriptions warning that underage kids are not allowed entrance into the betting centres. But the opposite is what obtains inside the game centres as underage kids, mostly male, could be seen in the centres.
“Some of us are regular customers so they can’t chase us away,” a 15-year-old underage player, Salau Kazeem, fondly referred to as ‘Alfa’ by his friends, told PREMIUM TIMES inside a sport betting centre along Oju-Ore road, Ota, Ogun State.
Another 14-year-old JSS 2 student who simply identified himself as Osita in Oregun, Ikeja, Lagos, said: “Most of them allow us in because they need the money… they need salary.”
At a Bet9ja shop located along Agege Stadium road in Lagos, John Kingsley, another underage bettor who spoke with PREMIUM TIMES, said they are often restricted in shops located in open places but have free access into shops in obscure parts of the area.
“If it is in the open, they always try to stop us especially during the day but if the shop is in one corner, we have free access. Some of them even monitor security people for us,” John explained.
In centres visited by PREMIUM TIMES around Obalende and other parts of Lagos Island, those who spoke with our correspondent said some centres are no-go areas even for security officials because of the volatility of those areas.
“These areas––Obalende through CBD, Okepopo, Epetedo, Itafaji and Lafiaji areas of Lagos Island––are difficult to monitor because of the security concerns,” a parent who craved anonymity told PREMIUM TIMES in Okepopo area.
“There are too many notorious young people around here and that’s why people are cautious of complaining about the prevalence of underage bettors here. Many small kids patronize the sports betting shop here without restriction or condemnation.”
Igwe Charles, a 15-year-old clothe trading apprentice at Broadstreet, Lagos Island, said there is unrestricted access to some centres within Lagos Island “because of the nature of the area.”
Another underage bettor in the area who simply identified himself as ‘Show-boy’ also disclosed that in some centres, law enforcement agents like police officers also join others at the game centres, including teenagers, to play the game.
WE KNOW IT’S ILLEGAL
Amos, a 16-year-old SSS1 student who resides at Oshin Street, off Kudirat Abiola way, Lagos, admitted that although gambling is illegal, he needs the money for ‘personal reasons’.
“I know it is illegal for me to gamble but I need some money to do some few things, if I need ball I will buy ball and also for some projects at school. So sometimes when they give me money for food, I save some to eat and some to gamble, I don’t use N1000 naira to play just N100 or N200 and the highest I have ever won is 10k (N10,000).”
For 14-year-old Ogunfolaji Abu, a JSS 3 student in Oregun area of Lagos, he said he knows that sports betting is illegal for underage but needs the money for food.
He explained that his parents are worried about his involvement in sports betting and even tried to stop him.
“They know… they tried to stop me but I do it to get some money so that I can buy food; my parents feed me but I just want to get more money to buy plenty food.”
In August 2015, ‘Show-boy’, a 17-year-old out-of-school young boy, made his first attempt at playing sports betting. He had gone to the betting centre around Lagos Island to help his uncle check the result of the game he (the uncle) played the previous day.
“I just felt I could also attempt it after I helped my uncle recover N15, 000 that day. It was very tempting. But when I played the first time, I didn’t win. I tried again and again for like two weeks and I didn’t win. I almost quit. But luck smiled on me when I tried once again and I won N6, 000. That was how I started,” he told PREMIUM TIMES in Yoruba.
Although he explained that he doesn’t win quite often, he admitted he has become a regular face at the sports betting centre and frequents the place on a daily basis.
“Like me, I have many friends who started playing by helping their fathers and uncles play the game or check result. Many of them are themselves ‘professionals’ (in sports betting) now,” he said amidst laughter.
Another 16-year-old JSS 2 student, Uche Michael, who had a ticket of the game he had played for the evening, told PREMIUM TIMES that gambling is not allowed for underage but it was fun.
“I play just to have fun, make some money for my education, to buy jersey kits,” he said.
Suleiman Anisere, a bet9ja shop owner at Amode close, Olusosun, Kudirat Abiola way, Lagos, said underage betting is not allowed in his shop but hinted that they may be allowed in other places due to poor monitoring by parents.
“Underage are not allowed to play here but in rugged areas like this, no one monitors their kids,” he said.
A Winners Golden Bet shop owner at Oregun, Lagos, Adeyemi Adewale, also agreed that betting for underage kids affects their education. He also attributed the development to the state of the economy.
“It would not move them forward in their education and they will start stealing money from their parents’ bag. I can’t advise them to play it, even me I don’t play it because it kills. But I can’t really blame these kids; when you see a big man come to play, even police officers. So, what do you expect these children to do?”
A parent who is also a Guidance and Counselling expert, Tunji Timothy, attributed the widespread indulgence of underage kids in sports betting to poor government regulation and parents’ lack of proper monitoring of their kids.
“The society is losing its morals and anything goes now. Government, too isn’t helping matters as most of the officials employed to uphold the laws look the other way after they get bribed. Similarly, parents too should monitor their kids closely; many parents have failed in their roles as parents.”
LOTTERY BOARD REACTS
Both the Ogun State lottery regulatory agency and the National Lottery Regulatory Commission, NLRC, failed to respond to email enquiries on efforts, if any, to stop underage betting.
However, an official of the Lagos State Lotteries Board responded.
Gbemisola Ajibose, Board Secretary and Legal Adviser at the Lagos State Lotteries Board, said the agency has zero tolerance for participation of underage in gaming activities.
When confronted with details of PREMIUM TIMES findings, she reiterated the resolve of the board to strengthen its regulatory functions.
“Lagos State Lotteries Board (LSLB) holds all licences to high operational standards and has zero tolerance for participation of underage and vulnerable persons in gaming activities in Lagos State,” she explained.
“As part of our oversight functions, LSLB has a dedicated team charged with surveillance and inspecting gaming operations within Lagos State including confirming operation models and monitoring underage gaming.
“Nevertheless, we adopt an open door policy wherein stakeholders including members of the public, operators, players, the press are enjoined to notify LSLB of perceived anomalies/issues in the sector. Thus, we appreciate any information on the gaming industry to promote effective regulation.”
She urged members of the public to provide verifiable information on any agent or outlet observed to be patronized by underage persons for immediate action.