Passion, Profits and Probabilities

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By Enefiok Udo Obong

It’s no news that Nigerians are passionate about football. In fact this fervor gives us a self-assured, almost hubristic attitude that we are adept on the topic of football. We label ourselves with various adjectives: pundit, oracle, authority, specialist, aficionado, doyen, maestro etc. even without any formal training to deserve such, just by the size of our love and following of the game. It is little wonder that when former Super Eagles coach Clemens Westerhof was questioned about the criticisms he had received and various opinions written in the papers about his team selections after losing a match, he responded that in Nigeria every grandmother is a coach. And it is with this omniscient air that a lot of Nigerians troop into the numerous bet shops springing about the nation.

The proliferation of sports betting shops and companies is no surprise. Adding poverty to the passion of sports, one can see why a lot of youths believe that their betting receipt is a ticket to riches. A lot of people have regarded hard work like it’s an evanescent pastime and embraced the yearning quick millions. One of the numerous anfractuous reasons the proponents of these online gambling will sell to you. A promise of quick riches. One so fallacious and misleading but even if true, can make a scattergood of beneficiary. But they have many disciples, and so every weekend just before the European football starts, every corner of the numerous bet shops around major cities would be filled with an interesting klatch, with different perspectives and predictions of the weekend’s matches brought up for discussion so as to predict probable outcomes. These followers are so unrepentant that even in the midst of lugubrious tears of lost income, as they often would lose, they excuse their actions with a lot of blarney about why they lost. Sometimes attributing the ill fate to just one simple “mistake” or “I almost made it, just one game was wrong.” And so with renewed hope that fate will smile on them, they bet once more with more money.

But then, there are winners. Constant winners. In an industry reported worth USD 3 Trillion, people must make money. Though more than half of that involves illegal betting. To try and curb this and put some kind of protection while generating funds via taxes, a lot of countries are now legalizing betting and instituting strict regulations. A landmark ruling by the US Supreme law court giving states the powers to regulate betting further helped spur football betting in the US. Although football is not the most wagered on sport in the US, a legal betting environment in the country may fuel soccer betting into more than $150 billion soon. In the legal betting field, football is the most wagered sport on earth. According to a report by News Agency of Nigeria (NAN), roughly 60 million Nigerians between the ages of 18 and 40 are involved in active sports betting. Almost N2 billion is spent on sports betting daily in Nigeria, which translates to nearly N730 billion in a year.

PricewaterhouseCoopers (PWC) in their 2017 report of the gaming industry in Nigeria (which appeared more of a proposal than a report) posted that, “The gaming industry has continued to expand, benefitting from; the large and youthful population, improving internet penetration, and the increasing access to internet-enabled devices. Sports betting has slowly emerged as a lucrative segment, leveraging Nigeria’s huge football culture. Some of the big leagues, such as the English Premier league, and the Spanish La Liga, have millions of fans in the country – betting provides Nigerians the opportunity to earn from what they love.” While the report did not state figures of revenues, profits, taxes or losses, it clearing exposed the dangers and the future growth the industry is heading towards. It explains that the industry is driven by various trends such as growth in the telecoms industry and partnerships with telecom companies, the broadening customer base, influx of foreign entrants and increased regulations.

While acknowledging the growing future of the industry it highlights the challenges also. Regulation (overlap between Federal and State governments.), multiple taxations, Foreign exchange (instability of the naira), poor corporate structure, cyber-security and negative social behaviour such as addiction.

Millions of naira in reality can be made from sports betting, but it is more likely that more millions are lost than made as most profits are entirely to chance. Yet there are some people who are professional betters. They make their living by betting on games. Becoming a professional punter ironically ones knowledge of soccer or the sports is not as important as ones knowledge of mathematics. The math underlying the betting can help determine whether a wager is worth the risk.Understanding the types of odds and how to convert these given probabilities into implied improbabilities percentages is crucial in the decision making. Once the implied probability for an outcome is known, decisions can be made regarding whether or not to place a bet or wager. The key to assessing an interesting opportunity is to determine if the probability is higher than the implied probability reflected in the odds. The most successful bettors tend to be the ones that have no inclination to try and “pick the winners”, nor have any interest in the actual event (ironically). It’s the methodical approaches to gambling that are most successful. Becoming a successful sports trader is incredibly difficult. It’s estimated that less than 1% of people earn a consistent profit.

But it should be remembered that the house always wins. The odds on display never reflect the true probability or chance of an event occurring (or not occurring). There is always a profit margin added by the bookmaker in these odds, which means that the pay out to the successful punter is always less than what they should have received if the odds had reflected the true chances.

So while an education in mathematics may be more important than the knowledge of Real Madrid, this addictive habit of betting is designed to make customers lose and business owners richer, so as a regulation, it is advisable that most of the profits and taxes from these indulging behavior be used for social benefits or perhaps sports development. Then, the society may see some positive impact to an otherwise worrisome vice.