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Desperate times as Nigerians turn to gambling

Oghene Omonisa

By Oghene Omonisa

The man looks haggard, even insane, with clothes old and dirty.

His dark skin lacks wash and hair gradually falling into dreadlocks. He smells. His eyes are dreamy, as if he has had a wrap or two of Indian hemp (igbo). His feet are tucked into old slippers of different colours.

He could not stand straight, swaying as though his legs could not carry his lean frame.

But the group of about fifteen circle him, as they surge forward, straining their ears for his every word. He hesitates as he sways. “Sure Banker, wetin be today numbers?” one of them asks anxiously in pidgin. The man mutters four words, and they all surge closer, not bothered a bit about his smell.   “You say wetin?” The question is from a woman in the group. “11, 60, single 6”, he repeats, coherent and audible enough only to those closest to him.

Quickly, the numbers are typed on phone or written on piece of paper. Those who could not catch the numbers ask others, and those who heard repeat for the benefit of all. And every of them dashes for the closest betting shop.

The numbers are for the Nigeria Premier Lotto Game, popularly known as Baba Ijebu. It is believed to be a gambling game where players forecast on numbers that will win. But many have clearly given up on forecasting. They rely on dreamed up numbers and numbers from unusual sources like Sure Banker, whom many players in the Ojo area of Lagos believe in. Some have won thousands of naira through his predicted numbers that he has become reliable.

From every part of Lagos and in some other parts of Nigeria, the number of gamblers has increased in recent times as more Nigerians have turned to gambling, especially Baba Ijebu and sports betting. Though it is a trend more common among the working class and artisans, especially the playing of Baba Ijebu, every one plays these games. However, sports betting attracts mostly the upwardly mobile.

The beginning

But this has not always been so. Gambling, as Nigerians knew it, was synonymous with pool betting, the old conspicuous pool, whose offices used to dot every street corner of major towns in Nigeria.

In the heyday of pool, there were also casino centres with slot machines, popularly known as kalokalo.

Pool was known to be played by middle-aged and elderly men. It was even perceived as a game for failed men, who use their little earnings to try their last chance in life.

Lotto Pool betting is based on predicting the outcome of 49 top-level English associated football matches taking place in the week. Coupons are provided whereby betters tick the itemised clubs in the fixtures. Studying results of past matches, and using the strengths and weaknesses of the clubs, betters forecast clubs which might play draw, and tick their itemised numbers. Winnings are based on if those clubs eventually play draw.

Pool has two plans or packages: permutation or perming and napping. Perming is the commonly played plan, where a better selects possible numbers which might draw. He could perm (pick) 3 numbers against 4 (selected likely numbers of draws). The player could also perm 3 against 5 and so on, or perm 4 or more against 5 or more. And he wins when all the permed numbers appear among the number of draws.

The payoff is determined by the quantity of permed numbers and that of the selected numbers. The fewer the selected numbers the player perms from, and the higher the permed numbers, the higher the payoff. The total number of draws for the week also determines the payoff. If the draws are low, it attracts more amount of payoff and vice versa.

In napping, the player selects likely numbers which might draw. He only wins when all the napped (selected) numbers draw. It is common to nap three numbers. Napping is much difficult to win, but offers higher payoff.

Depending on the total number of draws for the week, perming 3 against 5 with N100 could fetch a player between N1,000 and N5,000; while napping three numbers with N100 wins between N5,000 and N15,000.

Both perming and napping could also be played as bonanza or jackpot, where a player predicts that there will be a total of exactly ten draws for the week. If his played draws are correct, but the total number of draws for the week is less or more than ten, he loses everything. But getting his played draws right in bonanza, and the draws also being ten for the week, attracts over a hundred thousand of naira with N100 stake.

The official lowest amount to stake with in both plans is N1, but different pool companies have their own minimum rate; some N10, others N20.

Pool is not as prevalent as it used to be, being overtaken by Baba Ijebu and sports betting. But it still commands following among its ardent players.

Pa Kareem Adegbite, a taxi-driver at Palmgrove, Lagos, has been playing pool since the late 1970s. He says he has benefited a lot from pool. “I bought my first car from pool winning in 1982”, he reveals. Now in his late 60s, he admits to having lost more to pool than he has won.

Why does he play pool? “I see pool betting as ajo. I may lose for some time, but when I win, it is in a big way, and I use the money for something really good.”

Ajo, also known as osusu, is the traditional commission-based daily saving system where one saves a small amount of money with its operator and collects the whole money at the end of the month.

Asked why he still sticks to pool and not Baba Ijebu or sports betting, Pa Adegbite confides that he has tried Baba Ijebu, but does not understand it, and says sports betting is too sophisticated for him. He prefers his old reliable pool, which he claims has been beneficial to him.

Alhaji Shafiu Olowe is a transporter at Okokomaiko, Lagos, who claims to have been playing pool for “a long time”. He plays pool to augment his lean earning, he says. Yes, he plays Baba Ijebu as well because he is out to earn money from gambling, so any form of gambling that will bring money is accepted.   No, he does not forecast in both games. “People give me games (numbers). If you even give me game in this sports betting they play, I will play.”

Pool playing is engaging for some. “Í play pool to exercise my brain, studying past matches”, says Mr. Ifeanyi Anaekwe, a retired school teacher at Maza-Maza, Lagos. Now in his mid 60s, he says when he was much younger, he used to play pool for money, but presently spends N50 on the average weekly. He admits to winning at most N1,000 some times.

Patronage is declining for pool operators. I.K. Pools on Ago Anago Street, Okokomaiko, Lagos, is an agent to God’s Time Pool Ltd, Olodi, Apapa, Lagos. Miss Rachael Odimegwu, the booking clerk confides that she has been in the business for over two years. She reveals that patronage has been consistently reducing since then. So what could be responsible?

Baba Ijebu and sports betting”, she says. ‘That’s what everybody plays these days.’

Could this be because those gambling games favour the betters more? “Well, it can be. I don’t know”, she replies.

At Jet Williams, a pool office at Okokomaiko, along the Lagos/Badagry Expressway, which is an agent to Liberty Pool Ltd, Ilupeju, Lagos, the manager was said to have gone out. The four bettors inside were busy discussing as they forecast. They all refused to be interviewed except one, Mr. Ben Adams.

Mr. Adams claims to have been playing pool for over ten years. He has no plans to give up pool for another game as it is the only game he enjoys playing. He plays daily and wins on the average of twice a month. He says he sees pool as a means of raising extra money, however he confesses to having lost more than he has won.

Mrs. Remi Ajuwa, the booking clerk at Liberty Pool on Dada Street, Ojo, Lagos confirms that Baba Ijebu and sports betting have overtaken pool as the major betting games. Liberty Pool is an agent to JBL Al-Salam.

“There are four sports betting shops on this street alone”, she reveals, sitting alone and dejected in the office. “And the Baba Ijebu shops at the junction are uncountable. Nobody plays pool anymore. Since morning (on a Thursday), I’ve been alone. Not a single booking. Look at the office, there has been no staker or even forecaster since morning.”

Baba Ijebu takes over

It is evident that more Nigerians are attracted to Baba Ijebu and sports betting as the newest forms of gambling to make extra money, or even to make the “big money”, in the parlance of the new generation of Nigerians.

lottoAccording to the website of Premier Lotto Limited (PLL), promoters of Baba Ijebu, the company was incorporated in 2001, and its founder and current Chief Executive Officer is Chief Kessington Adebukunola Adedibu, who is from Ijebuland in Ogun State, from which the name Baba Ijebu was coined.

But unlike pool and kalokalo of old, Baba Ijebu enjoys patronage from the young and old, male and female. So, what could be responsible for this new craze for gambling, especially Baba Ijebu?

“It is a measure of the harsh economic condition”, suggests Mr. Chidi Ogoke Nwosu, a Premier Lotto-licensed agent with his shop located at LASU Gate Bus Stop, along the Lagos/Badagry Expressway, Ojo, Lagos. He continues, “So, Nigerians don’t mind risking a fraction of their earnings on gambling, with the hope that their life could be turned around with a huge win.”

“It’s greed and laziness”, insists Mr. Braimoh Ibrahim, a fresh sociology graduate of the University of Lagos. “Gambling is not a profession. If your earnings are not enough to meet your needs, you can get another job, or in the absence of that, look for other means to augment your earnings. Not gambling.”

On claims by many gamblers that if they could have a big win, they would invest the money to change their lives, while they give up gambling, Mr. Ibrahim asks rhetorically, “Who among Baba Ijebu players has won a big amount and then given up? They don’t give up. After losing so much, they sometimes win some huge amount, then squander it with the belief that they will win again. That has often been the psychology of gamblers. They can’t live within their means.

It’s a pity more Nigerians are turning to gambling.”

To Miss Sarah Efobi, a receptionist with a maritime company at Apapa, Lagos, any form of gambling is bad. “Whether it is Baba Ijebu, pool or sports betting, it’s a bad habit. But the worst is this Baba Ijebu of a thing. In pool and sports betting, one could forecast, using performance in past matches. But not Baba Ijebu.”

Miss Efobi confides that her mother plays it. “She will claim to have seen the numbers in a dream or that a very reliable person gave them to her. After she has lost, she will tell you ‘Ho, is it not just N20 or N50 or N100?’” Miss Efobi believes more Nigerians are taking to gambling because of easy cash. “When they hear that somebody they know has won big money, they want to play and win too.”

But is there really forecasting in Baba Ijebu, which would have made it easy to understand the game and therefore made winnings more frequent? Going by its official name, Baba Ijebu is not supposed to be based on forecasting, as a lotto game, but a complete game of chance.

When Saturday Vanguard visited the company’s head office on Funsho Williams Avenue, Surulere, Lagos, its Public Relations Officer (PRO) refused to give his name let alone answer questions put to him, insisting a letter be written to the company, requesting an interview.

“Of course, there is forecasting in Baba Ijebu”, volunteers a source in the company, who does not want his name mentioned as he was not authorised to speak for the company. He explains that agents are provided with forecasting sheets, which are made available in every shop, for betters to forecast with, studying past winning numbers.

“There are people who are very good at forecasting Baba Ijebu”, he explains further. “They win all the time. These are the people who give reliable numbers to players.”

But interestingly, the source could not convincingly explain the formula used in the forecasting. He, nevertheless, admits that some players actually rely on dreamed numbers.

In Baba Ijebu, the winning numbers are five numbers in every game and on which every winning is based.   The games are 24. They are Bingo, Bonanza, Club Master, Diamond, Enugu, Fair Chance, Fortune, Gold, International, Jackpot and Lucky. Others are Lucky G, Mark II, Metro, Midweek, MSP, National, Peoples, Premier King, Royal, Super, Tota, Vag and 06.

They are only different in name as all the plans can be played in every game. Numbers are chosen from 1 to 99. Posting of numbers for the first game opens at 6am daily and closes at 9am and results come out by 10:45. The next game closes at 12 noon and results come out by 1:45pm, and so on till the sixth game, whose results come out by 11pm.

Two games are played the same time to make six games a day. But on Sunday, the first game opens by 6am and closes by 12 noon, unlike other days, whose first game closes at 10:45am, making Sunday games a total of four as there are no two games played at the same time, unlike other days.

Baba Ijebu has five plans, which all require different number of figures to appear in the winning five numbers for the player to win. Permutation or perming is the most played plan. In it, a few numbers are chosen, and if two numbers in the chosen numbers appear among the winning five numbers, the player has won.

If a player perms two numbers, for instance, and selects five numbers (perm 2 against 5), he hopes that at least two numbers among his selected five numbers should be among the winning five numbers. With N20, he gets N200; N30 gets him N300; and with N40, he wins N400. To increase his chances of winning, a player can also increase his chosen numbers to ten (perm 2 against 10), and if at least two numbers “drop”, he also wins. But the more the chosen numbers, the less the winning price.

In 2 sure, two numbers are played, which the player is very confident or sure might be among the winning five numbers. And if this happens, the player has won. With N20, he gets N4,000; N30 gets him N7,200; and N40 wins N9,600. The chances of winning 2 sure is very slim, compared to permutation.

3 direct is the highest-paying plan. A player chooses three numbers, which he expects to be among the five winning numbers, for him to win. N20 gets him N42,000; N30 brings N63,000; and N40 wins N84,000.

Banker is the most expensive plan. It can only be played with N450 and above. A player only needs to play one number, and when it “drops”, the player wins. But the payoff is low, compared to the staking prices. N450 gets the player N4,800; N900 brings N9,000; and N1,350 wins N18,000.

One against others is the fifth plan, whereby the player selects a number and five others. The selected one number and another one from the other five numbers must appear among the winning five numbers for the player to win. The player can also “stand” one number against ten, but winning in one against ten has a lower price compared to one against five. Playing with N50 in one against five and winning nets a player N1,200; N100 wins N2,400; with N200, he gets N4,800; and N500 gets the player N12,000.

So, in all of these, how do Baba Ijebu gamblers determine which game or plan to play when they are given numbers or when they dream numbers?

“Easy, as every game relies on five numbers to win”, ventures a better at Ojo, who simply gave his name as Gbenga, and who relies on characters like Sure Banker for numbers. “So, it only requires a better to play the dreamed numbers and for the numbers to appear in the winning five numbers.” He explains further that if a better dreams or is given numbers, he could play any of the games.

But that certainly does not explain the specific game or plan to play.

Gbenga smiles and admits: “It’s all part of the risk involved in playing Baba Ijebu”. He explains that dreamed numbers could be played in the first game of the day, and if the numbers do not “drop”, they are played in the next, and the next till they “drop”.

Mr. Segun Agboola, a Baba Ijebu agent at Apapa, Lagos, expatiates: “Dreamed numbers are often difficult to play. The same goes for speculated numbers. You know, an accident could happen here and one of the cars comes out undamaged. Some players could just copy the car’s plate number and speculate that since it was undamaged, its numbers could be lucky numbers. Speculated numbers like these, as well as dreamed numbers, are difficult to play as you don’t know which game to play them in.”

According to Mr. Agboola, when forecasters bring numbers, they are specific. “Ýou could be told to play Club Master tomorrow, Tuesday (the fifth game on Tuesday). In that case, you could play more than one plan, play it 2 sure, 3 direct, perming, and with N500, you could win N500,000 and above.”

But how often do Mr. Agboola’s customers win and how much? “Ém, one, two times a week, and the winnings vary, depending on their stakes.”

But is playing Baba Ijebu really worth it? Many players interviewed said they enjoy playing the game as it has brought them some amount of money. Most of them however admitted to having lost more money than they have won.

The emergence of sports betting

Sports betting is another form of gambling which is fast gaining grounds in Nigeria, especially among the young and upwardly mobile.

It is a gambling platform which is based on major sports games like basketball, handball, baseball, golf, tennis, and including of course football. But because football is a game which enjoys strong passion in Nigeria, it has easily attracted the highest betting, and even perhaps emerged the only sports game Nigerians bet on.

Unlike pool, sports betting on football is not restricted to the English league. As well as international club and country tournaments, sports betting covers leagues from all over the world, including of course the Nigerian Premier League, though many betters do not bet on the Nigerian league as it is perceived as predictable. European leagues enjoy the highest patronage, from the English Premier League to the Spanish La Liga and the Italian Serie A.

“This is because these are leagues which had enjoyed large following in Nigeria before the advent of sports betting”, explains Mr. Samuel Uangbaoje, a training executive with Bet9ja, one of the leading online sports betting companies in Nigeria. “So, football-crazy Nigerians are being given the opportunity to bet on their passion.”

Sports betting has many exciting plans or packages. Straight bet or single bet is the one commonly played by Nigerians, where a better bets by simply picking a side to win or draw. When a strong team is playing against a weak one, the outcome is easy to predict, therefore the payoff is low if one is betting that the strong side will win. Points are then given to the weak side as odd, which determines the payoff if the strong side eventually wins. Depending on the points, N100 could win as low as N200, or even win back N100, the exact stake.

But betting that the weak side will win, definitely attracts higher payoff if the weak side eventually wins. Still depending on the points given to the strong side as odd, a N100 stake could fetch a few thousands.

But when both teams are of equal strength, the payoff in betting either way will be expectedly high.

Parley is an improvement on straight bet, where a better picks more than one game and predicts the winners. The more the games chosen, the higher the payoff. But all the predicted games must go accordingly for the better to win.

There is preposition, where a better could bet that a side will score up to a specific number of goals, or that both sides will score so-so number of goals, or that home or away team will win, lose or draw. One could also bet a direct winning for the home or away team, half time draw, or full time draw. Or one could bet on more goals in first half than second half and vice versa, or on first/second half draw, full time draw. Winning in preposition and other similar packages is not as frequent as winning in straight bet or even parley.

There are tens of online sports betting companies in Nigeria, the leading ones include Bet365Naija, 360Bet, SureBet247, NairaBet, Bet9ja and 1960Bet. Others are MerryBet, BetRepublicana, BetColony and LovingBet.

They all offer similar plans and are strictly online, though with well-known head offices, mostly located in Lagos, and with bet shops scattered across the country. And more are springing up to meet the growing demands

Though betters can bet through their phones by opening an online account with a bet company, and also follow live scores online, most prefer the bet shops clearly because the shops provide opportunities for them to watch the matches live and also to share ideas with fellow betters, thus the rush to bet shops. The bet shops collect commissions as agents.

So, what are the primary attractions for the online sports betting craze?   Mr. Akin Lamidi, a senior officer of SureBet247 explains: “Financial benefit is one. Every gambler wants to win. Then we’re talking football here. Nigerians love football with passion. In fact, we’re crazy about football. Sports betting provides Nigerians the platform to bet on their passion.”

He says many Nigerians knew and had been following European league football matches, especially the English Premier League, and that Nigerians all had been fans of different clubs before the advent of sports betting in the country. “It’s this same passion that has been transferred to sports betting”, he says. “Now, Nigerians don’t predict matches only for passion. They predict and earn money from doing so.”

But could this phenomenon be informed by unemployment or tough economic condition? “No”, insists Mr. Uangbaoje of Bet9ja. “Before the coming of sports betting, Nigerians were known to have been betting in viewing centres. Then, many of them mostly bet to support their clubs. Nigerians bet due to their passion. Though now, the scope has been broadened to include betting on one’s knowledge and understanding of teams they bet on as one cannot bet on one’s club only.”

“I don’t see sports betting being due to economic reasons”, says Mr. Lucky Osogwa, a 1960Bet agent at Orile, Lagos. “It’s investment. Yes, many betters lose more than they win. It’s like investing in shares. If you don’t understand the workings of a company and you invest in it, when the company suffers loss, you lose. But when it profits, you profit as well.”

“Sports betting cannot be due to hard times or unemployment”, says Mr. Laola Goerge, a lawyer based in Apapa, Lagos, “because the frequency of winning is low and most of its players are of the working class and students. I think the craze is due to their passion and desperation to earn more from gambling. Who can live on gambling?”

“I’ve a job”, says Mr. Jonathan Nwanjei, a technician at Surulere, Lagos. “Sports betting to me is simply to make more money. Sure, sometimes when I make some good predictions, I look forward to winning, even planning how I will spend the money if I win. Who plays gamble to lose?”

Mr. Victor Kuje, a school teacher at Festac Town, Lagos says: “I play sports betting to make money. Is gambling not all about winning?”

“I play sports betting because I like football”, says Mr. Victory Oshe, an undergraduate of the Lagos State University. “But I am also out to make money, which is the essence of gambling.”

Do sports betting players really benefit from the game? “I’ve won more than I’ve lost”, boasts Mr. Tunde Ogunlewe, a student in his mid 20s. “I’m very careful in my betting, not taking unnecessary risk. With N100, I can win N2,000 to N5,000 playing straight bet on a few matches.”

It is different for Mr. Bright Ohadiwe, a businessman in his late 30s, who admits to taking risk. “I play every day, sometimes betting on as many as 30 matches, and I also bet on goals, free kick, corners, in fact I bet generally. Yes, I’ve lost more than I’ve won. I recoup most when I win as I sometimes win as much as N200,000.”

Finnest, his stage name, is an up-coming music artiste based in Lagos. He says he plays sports betting every day, that he even has an online account. He claims he has won as much as he has lost. “No matter how many times I lose, I can’t stop playing as a winning covers previous losses”, he asserts.

Baba Ijebu has clearly overtaken pool betting as a form of gambling in Nigeria as it has won over a large number of former pool players. Now, sports betting is fast emerging as the leading gambling game. What could be responsible for this?

“It’s not because there’s no forecasting in Baba Ijebu”, explains Mr. Lamidi, the SueBet247 senior officer. “There is. It’s just that most of its players can’t forecast it. For pool, betting is based only on 49 matches a week and on draws. But sports betting offers a variety of packages. And there are more chances of winning in sports betting than in pool and Baba Ijebu.”

In a recent News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) report, “60 million Nigerians between 18 and 40 years of age spend more than N1 billion daily on sports betting.”   They surely cannot be winning that much daily. The report also reveals that “a betting company can generate up to N20 million monthly and use between N5 million and N7 million to meet winners’ obligation in terms of payment.”

Members of the emerging generation of Nigerian gamblers are obviously enthusiastic about gambling, especially due to the numerous and exciting packages which these new gambling forms provide. And these recent gamblers win sometimes, which enthrall them into assuming they are not losing out.

It certainly will take years and experience for them to realize that organized gambling, and not home or private gambling, is a commercial activity which is backed by investors and run by experts, who devise methods to ensure that players lose more than they win, to keep the gambling industry running.



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