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Is Increase in Smartphones Usage Propelling Sports Betting in Nigeria? | BizWatchNigeria.Ng

6th January, 12:56

If we think back to the time before the internet or smartphones were a guaranteed presence in our daily lives, sports betting was something you could only do by physically going to a betting shop.

While this is still a thing today, a more sophisticated option is becoming ever more available to Nigerians. We're talking about online sportsbooks, which are available not only through desktop computers but also through most mobile devices: smartphones and, yes, even older phones.

In terms of popularity, Bet9ja's app is undoubtedly stealing the scene here as the sportsbook's mobile version is, by far, the most used amongst the betting apps in the country. However, the term betting app doesn't strictly apply to downloadable applications that can be found on App stores.

The fact that many betting sites allow customers to make deposits and place bets through USSD codes - dialing something like *737*1*AMOUNT*BANK ACCOUNT NUMBER# on your phone - ensures that even people with outdated mobile phones and no internet access can use the sportsbook's services. Unsurprisingly this increases the bookmaker's mobile reach.

So does this truly generate more engagement with sports betting within the Nigerian population? Study data seems to corroborate this, as suggested by a report that points out the fact that roughly 60 million Nigerians between the ages of 18 and 40 are actively involved in sports betting.

As of right now, there are 169 million cell phone subscribers and 100 million internet users in Nigeria. Considering the future, it is logical to think that these numbers will only keep increasing as more people get to have access to better equipment and mobile internet connection.

Even internationally renowned sportsbook brands like 1xBet and Betway are now making a strong entrance in the country, trying to tap into the mobile betting market. This confirms the attractiveness of this business sector, currently evaluated at $2 billion.

As you would expect, soccer is the most popular sport in wagering volume. Perhaps the most surprising information is that the English Premier League is the most favored competition - by far - with little attention being given to the Nigerian Professional Football League.

Perhaps the recent popularity of African players in the Premier League like Mohammed Salah, Aubameyang or Sadio Mane has a part to play here...

More recently, another sporting event also shook the hearts of Nigerian sports fans, only this time it took place in the boxing ring. When Anthony Joshua won back his heavyweight boxing title by displaying a masterclass against Andy Ruiz Jr. last December many Nigerians were rooting for Joshua. The fighter is popular in the country because of his Nigerian roots, and the number of bets backing Joshua was especially high.

While these reasons don't have the same impact that the growing numbers of mobile usage and sports betting do, they surely help.

This can be inferred because even if these athletes were to disappear tomorrow, it would be reasonably expected that the numbers of online mobile punters would keep increasing within Nigeria's huge population of 190 million people.

As stated in the aforementioned report:

"The widespread use of mobile phones in Nigeria has been a positive game-changer for the sports betting business. Every day, it gets easier to pay, play and win or lose. The billion-dollar sports betting industry is growing astronomically with Nigerian football culture."

There are some positive aspects to this for sure. Nigerian licensed operators are obliged to pay tax on their winnings, which increases the government's tax revenue. This business also drives employment and all in all contributes to economic growth.

These arguments are strongly backed by supporters of sports betting business activity.

On the darker side of things, the potential for developing an unhealthy addiction and also negative consequences to individuals' finances are the most common arguments presented by those opposing the growth of the Nigerian betting market.

Regulation exists, and cases of successful law implementation to maximize benefits and cut risks have been reported in many countries so while it is still early to make solid conclusions, there is a case for a positive outlook.

As more sports betting brands look to enter the Nigerian market legally - which means obtaining a license emitted in the country - 2020 will be an important year to monitor how things play out in this business.

Local betting sites will be trying to leverage their knowledge of our local culture to gain a competitive edge over foreign competitors. This could mean looking at physical betting shops, which are still a strong trend in the country.