By George Eze Emeghara
There was this radio jingle several decades ago , which sang ” For this corner, e dey there, for that corner e dey there” The jingle was highlighting the ubiquity of the branches of the now defunct African Continental Bank(ACB).
These days the same thing can be said about gambling and betting shops and stalls.
Every where one goes in Nigeria, especially in the Southern part of the country,one is likely to see these shops. Even in the most rural of areas with no roads, light or water.
In such forsaken place one is sure to see at least a betting shop powered by a small generator, serving the needs of the people there.
On roadsides, in motor parks and markets, and almost every where else you see people queuing up in front of orange terminals operated by persons sitting under umbrellas or other make shift structures.
The pool houses of old are still there as are scratch tickets, lotto, lotteries, casinos, legal and illegal, internet gambling etc.
In addition, people are betting on their phones and on their computers through the internet. As usual, the Internet has been a great facilitator in the explosion of gambling and betting.
Nigerians are gambling and betting on events happening all over the world
They are betting on soccer, cricket, tennis, motor racing, cycling, hockey, dog and horse racing and many other games on in far away foreign countries
It appears the gambling bug has bitten almost every one. According to some estimates, at least 65 million Nigerians indulge in one form of gambling activity or the other every day.
Consequently the gambling and betting companies are laughing, not smiling ,to the bank and the government is raking in money from taxes.
The factors behind this increase are not difficult to identify. The economy is bad, businesses are shutting down, leading to high unemployment. As a result people have more time on their hands.
They have to find something to do. An activity like gambling not only engages them, helping to relieve boredom, it entertains them and gives them some hope that they can win big and a chance to do so. Such winnings are certainly welcome in these hard times.
It is this possibility of winning very big at low cost that is the biggest attraction for most of the people betting or gambling in Nigeria today. Unfortunately such big wins are rare and far between. However, the huge exposure given to the few who win big, encourages others and pushes them to keep trying.
This surge in gambling and betting has many disadvantages even as it is bringing in huge revenues for the government by way of taxes; helping the gambling or betting companies make tons of money which in turn makes it possible for them to expand and employ more people; as well as entertaining, pre-occupying the people and giving them hope, something to look forward to.
These disadvantages make it necessary to control, check or discourage the spread of gambling and betting in the land.
It destroys economies by lowering overall productivity. Regular gamblers can become compulsive gamblers or addicts who would do anything to lay their hands on money to gamble with.
In the process they ruin their businesses, marriages and friendships with other people. There have been numerous reports of staff stealing company money to finance their gambling habits. Children stealing money from their parents to go and gamble.
Apprentices using their bosses’ money to gamble. Students gambling with their school fees, Housewives gambling with ” chop” money entrusted in their care. Most of them gamble with the intention of replacing the money they have taken when they win.
But that never happens.
In the end gambling and betting leave the gamblers worse off than they were. Some of them become so disappointed and disillusioned that they are pushed to commit suicide.
If those of them who win occasionally were to add up all the money they have spent on gambling and subtract everything they have won, they will discover that they have lost far more than they have won. That is why it is said that ” you can’t win against the house”.
The house, in this case the betting or gambling companies. The catch phrase used by many of these companies which says it could be you walking away with the next jackpot is just a gimmick. The truth is that the odds are so stacked against the average gambler that he has next to no chance of hitting the jackpot or winning anything meaningful.
The sooner Nigerians realise this and put in the money they are pouring into gambling and betting into surer and more meaningful pursuits, the better for them and the economy of the country.
George Eze Emeghara is a Nigerian journalist, writer and public affairs commentator based in the southeastern city of Owerri. Money Palaver is his weekly column for Nairaweb.ng.