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COVID-19 takes toll on lotto operators, clients: ‘We were making millions but not anymore’

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…I am completely isolated now to avoid body contact —‘Baba Ijebu’

By Bose Adelaja

Gradually, coronavirus (COVID-19) has recorded over 512,701 cases globally.Also, 81 cases have been confirmed in Nigeria while three victims have been discharged from isolation centres in the country and one death recorded so far.

This has led various states, especially Lagos, to embark on measures to curtail the spread of the disease.

Among the measures taken is the social distancing order which has restricted social and religious gatherings and encourages residents to stay at home just as government has compelled many Nigerians, including businessmen, to comply with the order.

A week after the directives were issued, many businesses in Nigeria, which usually witnessed daily large turnout of people, have been feeling the impact of the stay-at-home order.

Sport betting industry, lotto and football viewing centers are not left out as many owners, operators and punters have started lamenting that the government directives are taken a toll on their businesses.

Reports say sport betting is an extremely profitable business in Nigeria, with active participation of about 60 million Nigerians between the ages of 18 and 40. The industry is said to have recorded a daily average of N 3,000 per punter just as reports say that as of 2016, a leading sport betting company in Nigeria (name withheld) was making an average monthly turnover of $10 million, followed by the second player in the industry which recorded an average turnover of between $3 million and $5 million with 20-30% profit margin.

The huge profit is made possible through access to various games like online poker, casino games and sports betting, regardless of the professional or educational background of the customer provided one can cope with the guidelines.

Another business sense adopted by these business operators to woo prospective customers is proximity as many of the outlets are sited at bus-stops and public places which customers can easily access.

The outlets have been attracting customers of various backgrounds including men, women and children who have seen the business as an alternative source of income.

However, the daily patronage enjoyed by these business owners have drastically reduced as corona has brought about suspension of major sporting activities around the globe apart from the fact that government’s directives on social distancing forbid social and religious gatherings and require markets which deal with non-essential services to shut down.

This has compelled many operators to suspend activities in their outlets prompting their customers to stay away pending the time normalcy will return to the country.

As of Friday, it was lamentation galore across Lagos as operators, owners and customers were seen complaining about the situation while some took to thesocial media to express bitterness over the development.

Some of them who spoke with Sunday Vanguard said the huge profit they enjoyed before the suspension of activities had enabled them to settle bills.

Meanwhile, in a telephone conversation with Sunday Vanguard, one of the leading lotto operators, Sir Kessington Adedibu, popularly called ’Baba Ijebu’, said there is a clear distinction between sport betting and lotto business. Though he did not speak further on the disparity, he said, ‘’I am completely isolated now to avoid body contact with anybody and this is not the time to talk about business but health”.

A survey of some of the outlets in Lagos revealed that it is no longer business as usual among the owners and operators of these lucrative businesses as the outlets have been deserted.

At some of the outlets visited, some were completely shut down while others, especially those at remote centers, were seen offering skeletal services as people were seen in twos or threes lamenting the situation.

Mr Adesina Lukman, who claimed he had been patronizing one of the businesses for almost a decade, said it served as an alternative source of income to his family.

He said, ‘’A friend introduced me to a game which I played with N20 and I earned N400, 000. This sounds unbelievable but it is true. However, childishness didn’t allow me to make something tangible out of the money as I was introduced to a more expensive game which gulped all the money and, since then, I never had such opportunity despite the fact that I spend almost N1, 000 daily to play games for the past ten years”.

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Another customer, Jay Jay Akwobi, said though he spends N2, 500 daily on betting, he has never been lucky to win any game. ‘’My own na ‘follow, follow’. I dey spend N500 to play games everyday but I no dey win”, he told Sunday Vanguard.

However, Mr Bisi Ogunnaike said he joined the league of punters and the bold step had paved way for good things since he lost his job about eight years ago.

‘’I resided in Oshodi while I worked in Victoria Island as a banker but I was laid off about eight years ago”, he said.

“Gradually, I exhausted all my earnings and could no longer afford my house rent while my landlord had issued a quit notice. I was nursing this dilemma when I met a class mate who introduced me to a game and this changed my destiny.

“On the said day, I was left with N500 when he encouraged me to play a game with N200 and the rest was history as I raked N2.5m which was spent judiciously by going to a Lagos suburb to acquire a piece of land to build a mini flat and a shop.

“Since then, I have been a regular face at the outlets and that is how I make my money which I used to establish my wife and send my children to school”.

A business owner, Mr Oladimeji Tijani, said he acquired the skill to establish an outlet during his days as a customer care representative after years of unemployment.

‘’I have second degree in mathematics but, unfortunately, I was earning N40, 000 in a private company and I later gained employment with a sport betting company where I earned N60, 000 monthly as a customer care representative.

“I applied my brain to learn everything the company was doing. While in the company, I joined a cooperative where I obtained a loan to establish an outlet and, gradually, the business grew and I resigned from paid employment to face the business.

“However, things have changed drastically since the outbreak of coronavirus as all my customers have stayed at home while I am left to cope with huge bills.

“Honestly, this is a tale of woe as many of us may be sent out of business if the pandemic persists”.

At Ketu Alapere, Lagos, Sunday Vanguard ran into viewing center operator, Ismaila Kazeem, who lamented that the situation in the country had spelled doom for the business sector.

‘’I pay monthly rent of N100, 000 across my centres apart from N75, 000 wagebill. Before now, I offset the bills sweatlessly apart from payment of my children’s school fees, house rent and meet other financial obligations”, Kazeem said.

“But business activities have been suspended due to the pandemic and if care is not taken, this may linger on for about two months. How will I pay the wages, rent and all other expenses?”

He said though he runs the business concurrently with Point of Service (POS), both businesses are threatened due to the social distancing order.

On the part of viewing centres, Madam Akande Aromoke, an employee of one of them, said she had been greatly affected by the social distancing order in the sense that her boss informed her about the need to reduce his staff strength.

She told Sunday Vanguard that she had seized the opportunity of the stay-at-home order to embark on house cleaning business.

Her words: “When the directive on the stay at home order was issued, the first thing I did was to call three of my church members to inform them I will be assisting them with house chores and they obliged.

“I have been going to their houses to baby-sit, wash clothes and dishes and they have been kind enough to compensate me with cash, foodstuff and other gestures”.

A house wife, Mrs Akinbiyi Bamidele, who took to the social media last Wednesday, said her lotto business had been helping her to offset some bills until recently when business activities were suspended.

The mother of three posted on her facebook: ‘’Hmmm! How are the mighty fallen. Five years ago, I took over a lotto business from my late husband and this is what had been putting food on the table for my family.

“The business recorded as much as N10, 000 profit daily but the outbreak of coronavirus has changed all that. Hope it will not send my three children and I to the village”.


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