Sports events and the sports industry around the world have been halted in recent weeks following the outbreak and spread of coronavirus (COVID-19). With Nigerians reportedly spending a whopping #730 billion annually and #2billion daily on sports betting, revenue generation is sure to be a concern to sports betting companies.

Since the pandemic outbreak, major leagues such as the English Premier League, Spanish Laliga, Italian Serie A and the German Bundesliga have been suspended indefinitely with UEFA announcing the suspension of the Champions League and Europa League fixtures.

Truly, the Nigerian sports betting and gaming industry has grown astronomically. The 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; playing 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 good pundit in the betting industry. The popularity of the business has seen sport betting shops spotted in almost every nook and cranny of our country, with new ones propping up daily.

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

For 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 those who visit their sites to place bets and punters, who see betting as a means of increasing their income, are also at a loss. Workers at betting companies and punters who spoke with The Vortex said the inactivity in sports had affected their businesses.

A member of the House of Representatives and founder of Nairabet, Akin Alabi, voiced the frustrations of 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 a virtual sport but it’s only a consolation. I know some companies will have to send staff on unpaid leave very soon,” Alabi wrote on Twitter.

Clever Phinere took care of his daily needs through extra cash he makes 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 Charles Amadi, a vulcaniser who said, “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, I can pick 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 are still on. I pray this disease will just go so that I can make some money”, he intoned.

Emeka Onyema 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.

Segun Ogundare 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.

He said, “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, stated, “The suspension has affected us, I must confess. At least before the 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 Chris Buchi genuine worry.

“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,” Buchi said.

For Alex Ovie, he could only recall the good 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.” Ovie disclosed.

Chukwuemeka Orlu, a Bet9ja branch manager who spoke to The Vortex, revealed that although there has been a drastic decline in revenue due to the COVID-19 pandemic, bettors can still take advantage of the virtual games.

He said, “A secret goldmine that many bettors are not even aware of is virtual. Majority of Nigerians are football and sports fans, whose passion inspired them to make stakes. So they have only been betting on sports. That mentality must be changed in these times. In the face of the coronavirus pandemic, online platforms like virtual, with no human-to-human interaction is the safest and the best bet. You can have the same feel as sports betting. Bettors have same opportunity to stake any amount and also select their favorite teams. For me, it is better because the matches are played and resulted in less than 5 minutes”.

In a contrary opinion,     Mr. Victor Robinson explains that virtual games cannot be trusted.

He said, “Virtual bets are a rabbit hole, it’s determined by code. With real bets, I can bank on Messi and Ronaldo saving the day. But with virtual bets, you’re at the mercy of the algorithm. You lose your money in five minutes and then start scrambling to win it back. You’re not betting on real people with a pattern, it’s like playing a slot machine while trying to protect the outcomes”.

If the coronavirus disease is contained and sporting activities resume in a short time, it would mean that the effects would be minimal. The danger will be if the pandemic lasts longer, especially as many of the players in the sector were blindsided by the crisis. But in the meantime, it puts online betting companies and their customers at an interesting counterpoint.

While the aphorism is that you can never beat the house, punters want online bet companies to power their virtual sports with algorithms that feel beatable. But with COVID-19, everyone is on edge.

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