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From boom to doom: Coronavirus wreaks havoc on sports betting industry

Bettors flock a sport betting office before the coronavirus outbreak (left) and an empty betting shop (right) after the pandemic in Lagos

’Tosin oluwalowo takes a look at the state of the betting industry globally after the outbreak of coronavirus, in this report

Sports betting is an extremely profitable business in Nigeria, with roughly 60 million Nigerians between the ages of 18 and 40 involved in active sports betting. Reports say on average, these punters spend around N3,000 every day on bets.

A leading report on Gambling in Africa published in 2016 by KPMG reeled out some startling numbers on the sports betting industry in Nigeria. As at 2016, the leading sports betting company in Nigeria, Bet9ja rakes in an average monthly turnover of $10m while the second player in the industry, NairaBet makes an average turnover of $3m to $5m with a 20-30% margin on profit.

NairaBET was the first domestic online sports betting website in the country. Ever since, many more gambling websites have opened shop in Nigeria including Bet9ja, BetKing, Betway, MerryBet, SureBet, GoldenBet, Bet365, Betfair, 888sport, 1XBet, Betwinner, amongst several others.

Truly, the Nigerian sports betting and gaming industry has grown astronomically in the last three years. This exceptional growth can be attributed to the large population of the nation and increased access to internet devices.

The advent of the thriving industry provided Nigerian fans with the opportunity to earn money from what they loved. This ranged from online poker, casino games, and sports betting.

It didn’t matter if you had an idea of the sport; there were guidelines online to help you become a better pundit in the betting industry.

Right now, the popularity of the business has seen sport betting shops spotted in almost every street in Lagos, with new ones propping up daily.

In fact, a betting firm has the second most visited website in Nigeria, according to alexa.com, as bettors flock the various online platforms in search of winning odds and numbers.

But that’s as far as it went before the outbreak of the coronavirus, which led to the suspension of sporting activities worldwide and in extension, the shutting down of business for the punters.

For both operators of the betting companies and their clients, it’s been business unusual.

While companies are ruing the reduction in the revenue they accrue from people who visit their sites to place bets, punters, who see betting as a means of increasing their income, are also at a loss.

Workers of betting companies and punters who spoke with our correspondents complained on how the inactivity in sports had affected their businesses.

A Member of the House of Representatives and founder of betting company, NairaBET, Akin Alabi, voiced the frustrations of other stakeholders in the industry when he admitted that sports betting was one of the worst hit since the virus outbreak.

“A business that has been badly hit by this shutdown is the sports betting business. No sports. No deposits. No income. Yes there is virtual sports but it’s only a consolation. I know some companies will have to send staff on unpaid leave very soon,” Alabi wrote on Twitter.

Titilayo Dada, who works with SportyBet, told The PUNCH, “The coronavirus scourge is gradually crippling sports betting businesses in the country and not just this sector others may suffer from this as well.

“Companies will be aiming to downsize in the coming weeks if there is no drastic measures in place to curb this menace. I hope a vaccine or cure is found soon so that this pandemic is cured.”

Jamiu Otokihla took care of daily needs through extra cash he made courtesy of betting, but that has been cut short due to the shutdown.

He said, “I normally get some fund from betting every week no matter how small to add to my daily spending but since last week, the odds have dropped, and we can no longer punt well again. If this coronavirus continues it will affect a lot of businesses and movements.”

It’s also a tale of lamentation for Mukaila Ariyo, a vulcaniser.

“The coronavirus has affected me; I can’t stake as much as I do. I remember before the outbreak; I staked a lot to boost my chances of winning,” Ariyo stated.

“I can carry games or fixtures from other leagues and place a certain amount on them, the more the options, the better your chances of winning.

“But, since this coronavirus started, I have not been able to make much, you know, the chances are slim, and one can’t make money. At least if the season was still on, I would have made money but, now no matches, nothing. I don’t know which matches and leagues that are still on, I pray this disease just go, so, that I can make some money.”

Emeka Onyeme lamented that the suspension came at a time he was on a winning streak.

“This coronavirus outbreak and the cancelling of sports events have made things difficult for me. I have been broke since they stopped football matches and the ones we’ve been managing to play keep getting called off and rescheduled every day.

“The painful part is that I’ve been winning lately and this trend might change when the leagues resume,” he said.

Tade Agboola has devised another means of overcoming the meltdown in the industry. He has resorted to ‘doing business’ with Premier Lotto, popularly known as ‘Baba Ijebu.’

‘Baba Ijebu’ is a form of gambling where winning numbers are drawn and monetary rewards are given to the winners.

“I have resorted to playing ‘Baba Ijebu’ and virtual sports betting since all the coronavirus thing. Even though I don’t really like it, I just have to use to keep myself busy as I now experience very boring weekends.”

Eric Titus, added, “The suspension has affected us, I must confess. At least before the total shutdown we could still stake games in Malaysia, Indonesia, and other parts of Asia. But now, it’s worse. There was a time I even staked games on matches in the Nigerian league, just to make small cash but, with the suspension now, I don’t know which games to stake.”

The reality of self-isolating at home without making extra cash to survive gives Segun Akanbi goose pimples.

“Sports betting is a hobby and a means of augmenting my salary. I can play 10 games with N1,000 and win N22,000. That’s some extra cash for some days. Sometimes, I cash out and get N15,000. I don’t play risky games; I always try to play safe. However, these days we don’t even have any opportunity of getting any cash,” Akanbi said.

For Yusuf Adeyemi, he can only recall the good old days of the booming business with envy.

He said, “I bet every week at least twice in a week and I engage in it because it’s something I love; I have made it my hobby. Sometimes, I just play with my cash with as low as N100. I don’t win little, I always win big, I can use N1,000 to win N22,000 or use N800 to win N45,000, if you compare how much I play with and what comes in, it’s usually very large.

“Now that sporting activities have been suspended, it’s not possible any more. I was on a N44,000 game, which I played with N800 and almost all the games were cancelled, only two games came and I got only N300 on it. It has really been affecting me. Since the suspension of major sporting activities, I have not opened any betting site.”

 Findings by our correspondent show that it’s not only Nigeria that sports betting’s been worst hit by the coronavirus outbreak.

Zimbabwe’s unemployment rate is at around 85 per cent, say independent economists.

By the time the country confirmed its first coronavirus cases, gamblers in the southern African nation had already started feeling the pinch.

Thirty-five year old Farai Chitengwa told VOA that for the past 10 years on a good month he got between $700 and $800 from football betting.  It is his only source of income.

“Obviously we need to contain this virus, which has gone astray. But at the same time it has an impact on some big punters, I also included. We make a living out of it. We all hope that they manage to contain coronavirus, so that we can start doing what we know best. But trying to cover a gap of $700 that we were doing through sport bet to all of a sudden to find other means, it is really stressful in a way,” he said.

In Durban, South Africa, betting shops have been relatively empty since the virus outbreak and will likely remain so until it subsides.

Hollywoodbets operations manager Dermot O’Connell said the loss of all the soccer leagues meant that betting outlets were generally emptier over the weekend and that meant dire financial implications.

“The loss of soccer matches across the world has left punters with limited opportunities to win money.

“Soccer punters are reluctant to stake their bets on minor leagues, so the loss of all major leagues, including the EPL, La Liga and Serie A, has been devastating.

“The loss of Super Rugby and numerous other sporting codes will also have a serious negative impact.”

In the US, the virus also grounded sports to a halt as the NBA, NHL and MLB suspended their seasons and the NCAA canceled ‘March Madness’ for its men and women’s basketball tournaments.

Every March, billions of dollars are wagered on the NCAA’s men’s and women’s basketball tournaments.

The nickname, March Madness, isn’t just for the pulsating, buzzer-beating action on the court but also for the stress-induced swings every sports gambler feels during every game they’re sweating.

But instead of all that money profiting Las Vegas sportsbooks and anywhere else gambling is legalised —there’s a whole bunch of revenue missing from those sportsbooks due to the novel coronavirus strain, COVID-19.

The decision to stop March Madness means $8.5bn in total wagers made from approximately 47 million Americans is not happening as it does every year, Sports Illustrated reported.

In total, Nevada sees $500m per month wagered on sports betting, according to Sports Illustrated.

On the heels of sports gambling market becoming virtually non-existent — there are still some sports played around the world — through America’s major sports leagues as well as the PGA Tour, NASCAR and others suspending their seasons, the ripple effect was felt at Vegas casinos.

MGM Resorts International, Caesars Entertainment Corporation and Sahara Las Vegas all laid off employees, the Las Vegas Review-Journal reported.

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