Promoters of sport betting caution minors to stay away from betting shops, but that had been taken with a pinch of salt till the regulators folded their sleeves recently, ONYEKORMAKA ASABOR writes
New face of business centres
At a cybercafé somewhere in Lawanson, Surulere, Lagos State, stone-faced male clients were glued to their computers. They were unarguably under-18, going by their looks, and were supposed to be in school. It was mid-morning on a weekday, the computers were all occupied and the underage were not there to do assignments given to them by their teachers; they were placing bets on football games that were being played mostly in Europe.
The cybercafé was a replica of the many spread all over the city and in suburban areas that have been turned into betting sites.
“Cybercafés are no longer the internet places you knew, where people came to download serious stuff or upload a document,” said Mr Magnus Ikenna, the operator, who was a betting addict. “With the introduction of online betting in Nigeria, the cybercafé business was transformed and acquired a new model.”
In most communities in Lagos and adjoining communities in Ogun State, students and young professionals have turned to cybercafés in the football-betting craze that has left many residents befuddled.
“All of them are male and between the ages of 15 and 17 years,” said a cybercafé owner. “A young man, who was working for an Information Technology company left his job for full-time betting.”
In Ogolonto town within Ikorodu Local Council, many young men have been sucked into the betting craze. They spend all day holed up in cybercafés, betting on nondescript teams in faraway countries. They pay upfront to cybercafés to satiate their betting addiction. Betting has become a full-time occupation for some people.
Exposure to consumer risks
At this juncture, it may not be wrong to say that they are not pragmatically protected by consumer rights and consumer protection laws, which ought to provide a way for them to fight back against abusive business practices. These laws are designed to hold sellers of goods and services accountable when they seek to take advantage of a consumer’s lack of information or bargaining power.
Some conducts addressed by consumer rights laws are simply unfair, while other conducts can be described as outright fraud.
Consumer rights laws exist at the federal and state levels. They are enforced by government agencies, offices of attorneys-general, and through individual and class action lawsuits filed by victims.
Against the foregoing, it is not an exaggeration to say that all over the world, particularly when seen from the perspective of consumer protection laws, that vulnerable groups, which include minors, are protected from being harmed or exploited in the gambling sector. In fact, young people are different from adults because of their stage of physiological and psychological development, especially given their inexperience and position in society. They are more vulnerable to gambling-related harms; and the harms they experience are likely to have large impact, now and in the future.
It is important, therefore, to identify the conditions, and to reduce the hazards, that might impair children’s ability to grow up safely. Keeping children safe requires action by a range of organisations. In Nigeria, Section 34 of the National Lottery Act 2005 stipulates that it is illegal for the underage to involve in betting.
“Any person who knowingly sells to any person under the age of 18 years any ticket in a lottery operated by a licensee commits an offence and shall be liable on 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.
Alas, despite the extant law, which protects children from engaging in gaming or betting, findings by Financial Street reveals that the law is being obeyed in the breach, as underage betters frequently engage in online betting, popularly known as Baba Ijebu. The betting brand that originated from the south western part of Nigeria has reached almost every state of the federation.
It is no secret that sport betting is a growing phenomenon, which appears a profitable business venture in Nigeria, particularly in Lagos State. It is a form of gambling that entails placing a bet on the outcome of a sporting event. The most common sporting event in contemporary time that attracts stakers is competitive football across the globe, including the most fancied European leagues and championships.
This is no denying the fact that the primary intent of sport betting is to win additional money. Paradoxically, what is oblivious to many is how much destruction the business is exerting on the future of the underage in many communities. For this reason, most parents and guardians are worried. But with intervention by the National Lottery Regulation Commission, there is unarguably a respite for parents and guardian across the country, particularly in the South West, as the NLRC continues sensitisation against underage gaming. The commission under the leadership Mr Lanre Gbajabiamila has resumed its campaign against underage gaming in Nigeria.
With the spike of underage gaming, the NLRC is pulling all the stops to stem its rise in Nigeria with several media campaigns and interactive sessions. To this end, the leadership of NLRC has launched a radio and television campaign in four different languages (English, Hausa, Yoruba and pidgin) to warn Nigerians about the menace of underage gaming. The adverts were hosted on football panels and radio stations to reach a diverse audience of young Nigerians. A big part of the campaign is the advertisements on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Nairaland. With more young Nigerians online, the NLRC promoted advertisements against underage gaming, warning about the repercussions of gambling before adulthood while promoting responsible gaming across platforms. A panel was also organised with industry stakeholders on Zoom to discuss the best ways to tackle underage gaming and chart a new course for the future.
The campaign was also taken to the streets in several cities like Lagos, Abuja, Enugu, Port Harcourt and Kaduna. Souvenirs like T-shirts, caps, exercise books and pens were distributed to remind young people of the menace of underage gaming and why it is important to stay away from this until they are adults.
The NLRC insists that it will continue the campaign indefinitely, as it has shown verifiable results in the drop in underage gaming. It called on gaming companies to be strict with their Know Your Customer activities to curb the menace.