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Banners announcing new betting shops or franchises are the fastest appearing in Lagos, second only to those of new churches and the latest church programmes. Young men (and maybe women) everywhere hold on to their printed bet receipts awaiting a turn of fortune. I have tried to understand this revived, reinvented phenomenon and here articulate my first thoughts on how it affects us.

How does betting work? Boiled down to the basics, the betting operator

  • aggregates funds from masses of people
  • pays out a part of it to a lucky few
  • goes away with his (or her) margin

The whole arrangement is rigged in favour of the operator. Sure, erstwhile deprived folks stumble on big breaks, some may even be made once and for all. Or at the minimum, win packets of cash on a regular basis to take care of the running cost of living in Lagos or present day Nigeria. But let me attempt to lay out some potential positives.

Thumbs up

  • Money to feed
  • Money to create capital for other investment or business (potentially)
  • Increases commerce in creating more betting businesses
  • More jobs, more employment opportunities for attendants
  • Increased sale and consumption of internet bandwidth
  • More tax, internally generated revenue for government in VAT, income tax, and business tax

Thumbs down

Yes, obviously the few get rich at the expense of the many (isn’t that like all of capitalism?). But there is a more serious problem with the arrangement.

Sports betting is an easy way to make money without creating or transmitting value, without going through the processes of creating and delivering value, from demand to supply; from transforming resources — physical, intellectual, creative, cultural — from one form to another appreciated by a certain market. Cash obtained by betting replaces that essential equation. Payouts are teasing baits that keep the punter (the one who bets) hooked to the programme while promising even better days ahead.

Bet winners lose touch with those skills to create, deliver, multiply, and manage wealth. The time and energies (physical but more importantly emotional, intellectual, creative energies) are expended on betting cycles: find available bets > place bet > monitor bet > if win, rejoice, do more betting; if lose, depressed, do more betting! These same resources required for productive, value creating work by promising minds are expended by our hope for a better Naija occupied all day or the most of it concentrating on the winning horse or dog at the Meriana race or the scores of the upcoming soccer fixtures that night or weekend.

You need enormous amounts of intellectual, creative and physical efforts sustained over time to gain mastery in any field — whether white collar, blue collar, everything in between. Concentration must be sustained for hours per time over a period before you change from a rookie presented with just facts or tools to a master who begins to deal with insight, continually finding hidden connections between things, gaining efficiencies, discovering the ‘tricks’ of the trade. In short, what experts call ‘gaining mastery’. No young man (or woman!) can gain mastery while distracted all day calculating, anticipating, agitating over the millions he could make from the bets he placed or worse reeling from a near-miss from winning a hundred-million naira. Would he be so inspired to work hard the next day or the next ones at his office or workshop?

You may win more money than you ever put in but that’s the game: you lose whether you win or do not win — and what you lose isn’t money. It is time, and the miraculous resources of emotional and creative energy you would have expended to do more, to create real wealth. And on a collective scale, we all lose. I lose what I would have gained if my brother deployed all his resources to create a better product or service for us.

I say sports betting, though it appears to solve our immediate economic needs, robs us of our future and should be ignored. Unfortunately, the current economic situation aids this practice, and only a few will stop and think. Many will laugh. I should face reality. I do, and that is why I choose to ignore sports betting and rest my hopes of a better life by focusing my energies on my work. We should bet only by steadfast work, believing in Providence to reward us.

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