Hooked: Sports betting addiction in Ghana youth
While the youth are delving deep and getting hooked, the betting companies are smiling all the way to the bank.
By Emmanuel K Dogbevi
Ghana: With a betting slip in his hands, Joel, a 32-year-old man wearing a white shirt and a pair of black shorts, cautiously gives an analogy: “Just like someone who is smoking. I am not saying am addicted, but betting has become part of me. I’m finding a way to stop it because it can’t help me”. Like Joel, there are many young Ghanaians, mostly men, there are some women too, who are gradually succumbing to the lure of sports betting with the hope that one day, they would win big.
Despite Ghana being largely a religious country, and the fact that religious people are known to abhor betting, betting shops have sprung up in sprawling communities around the country. Some can be found in corners, around busy markets and lorry parks, wherever people can be found – betting shops can be seen.
The sports betting companies slid into the country quietly more than 10 years ago but are now taking front seats – with large advertising billboards decorating streets across Ghana. They have become loud with radio and TV commercials and push hard with all forms of marketing strategies including big budget sponsorships, and they are getting Ghanaian youth hooked. Most of them facing unemployment, poverty and hopelessness are finding solace in sports betting.
According to the World Bank’s 6th Ghana Economic Update titled “Preserving the future: rising to the youth employment challenge,” released in July 2022, Ghana’s youth has grown rapidly and now represents 36 per cent of the population. The economy’s strong growth performance of the past 30 years has however not delivered enough jobs for them, it adds
The National Population Census in 2021 found that approximately three-quarters of unemployed adults were ‘young’. The report notes further that while governments have created multiple policies and programmes to address youth unemployment over the years, the many programmes aimed at helping the youth have often fallen short of the massive needs.
While investigating the phenomena of sports betting in Ghana, I found that some of the young people hooked to betting are traders, but most are unemployed, while others have poorly paid jobs.
Joel is a school drop-out from Nigeria. He migrated to Ghana and settled in the Eastern Regional capital of Koforidua. In the betting shop where I met him in the suburb of Adweso, about 12 young men hunched over computer terminals. Like everyone else, they hoped to make fortunes from their wins. They all have recorded more losses than wins, and yet they keep betting, hoping for their lucky day.
Ebenezer is 28 years old. He completed Senior Secondary School and makes a living as a painter, but when he has no painting jobs, he spends some of his time and earnings betting.
“A friend came and told me he has won a bet. Showed me how much he had won. He won almost GH¢4000 after staking GH¢5. I said I’ll also try my luck. That was how I started,” he said. Then he added, “I have won some, but I have lost more. The highest bet I have ever placed was GH¢50. The highest I have won so far was about GH¢3000. I can bet all day, but I don’t stake lots of money,” he says.
“Work is slow. I don’t have work to do now, so I spend most of my time betting, even though I don’t like betting. When I’m low on cash, I bet and hope to get some money from my wins. I bet around GH¢2 or GH¢5 at any time. I’ll never bet every day. You can’t use your hard-earned money to bet,” he says. “If you bet every day, your chances of winning are small. I don’t spend all my time betting. You can’t spend all your money and time betting,” he argues.
Like most of the young people I spoke to, Ebenezer believes betting is not a good thing. But he bets. Like him, most of the young people who agreed to speak to me, expressed awareness of the Ghanaian society’s abhorrence for sports betting, and therefore, weren’t keen in telling me their full names. They were also unwilling to have their photos taken.
“Betting is not a good game. I won’t advise anybody to go into betting, because it is not a good game at all. I am betting, but I won’t advise anybody to bet at all, because if you become a bet addict, you can’t even work. Every time, you want to bet. You can put all your hope in betting, that you can win big, and use it to do something, but you can’t win.
I intend to stop betting. I’m stopping. It’s little by little. In the past I used to bet about GH¢20 or GH¢50, but these days the highest amount I bet is GH¢5. I want to stop betting because it’s not a good game,” says Ebenezer.
Betting addiction in Ghana
Ghanaian society has for a long time been struggling with various types of addiction. However, in recent times, sports betting has become an obsession to add to Ghana’s list of addictions.
In an interview, Dr Paul Kumi, a Clinical Psychologist at the University of Ghana Medical Centre told Ghana Business News that addiction refers to an inability to stop engaging in a behaviour or using a substance that causes both physical and psychological distress to an individual.
Citing the American Psychological Association, he said an addiction is a state of psychological or physical dependence (or both) on the use of alcohol, other drugs or an activity.
“It sometimes applies to behavioural disorders such as Internet, sexual and gambling addictions. In Ghana, the most common forms of addictions are alcohol, Internet, drug, sex, gambling, for example lottery, and food addiction,” Dr Kumi said.
He explained further that addiction starts when a person, usually unintentionally, engages in an activity which seems to fill a void or helps them cope with an incident, stress and trauma such as loss of a job.
“Addiction starts when there is an over-dependence on the ‘source’ of increased dopamine in the brain. For example; if an individual feels pleasure, satisfaction and motivation from a particular substance, object, activity, he or she begins to depend on the said substance, object, activity,” he said.
The betting companies
The Ghana Gaming Commission has licensed 36 sports betting companies in the country. I made a Right to Information request seeking to know how much Ghanaians spend on betting, the Commission replied that it doesn’t have such information, and promised that should it ever have, it would share.
I made further enquiries seeking to know how it regulates online betting sites and what it does about under-age betting, as well as addiction, but I haven’t received their response yet by the time of publication.
Internet and smart phones make online betting ubiquitous
With the availability of the Internet and smart phones, sports betting and any form of online betting have become ubiquitous. All one needs is a smart phone, Internet, and a betting app. With these, one can bet at anytime, anywhere and as many times as possible.
Betting companies have come up with systems that enable consumers to load their Mobile Money wallets into accounts for easy betting.
Number of Ghanaians involved in sports betting
So far, available data on the number of Ghanaians involved in sports betting is from research on Internet penetration in Ghana published in September 2022 by Hootsuite and We Are Social – two of the globally recognised social media management platforms. The study says Ghana’s Internet population stood at 16.99 million, constituting 53 per cent of the total population as of the first quarter of 2022.
The research also found that about a 11.18 million people in Ghana used the Internet to access sports betting sites, 10.79 million used it to access news sites, 10.68 million for social media sites while only 2.57 million used it to visit informational sites.
With a rough estimate based on this figure even if each person making half of the number which is 5.6 million Ghanaians spend on average GH¢10 weekly to bet, in a four-week month that would amount to GH¢40. In one month therefore, Ghanaians would have spent an amount of GH¢244 million on sports betting, and in a year that would amount to more than GH¢2.9 billion.
Betting companies are making lots of money
While it’s not been possible to obtain information on the finances of betting companies, they are nevertheless making lots of money and they are not hiding it. One of the brands, Betway, part of the global Super Group and managed in Ghana by Sports Betting Group Ghana Limited, has signed a sponsorship deal with the Ghana Football Association (GFA). The amount involved has not been disclosed, but it’s likely to be substantial – in the millions of US dollars. Under the deal the betting company will support the local game and clubs as well as periodic training programmes for sports journalists, administrators of National Women’s League clubs, Division One League clubs and Ghana Premier League (GPL) clubs.
Just days to the opening of the World Cup, Betway announced a promotion for customers to win GH¢3 million to be shared among winners. They would be expected to predict the correct score in games. The correct predictions would win money prizes.
Another sports betting brand, betPawa signed a deal with the GFA to be the headline sponsor of the GPL, in an agreement valued at $6 million for three years.
MyBet.Africa, is sponsoring three winners of its 2022 World Cup promo, called “Play Ghana, Cheer Ghana” to Qatar on an all-expenses paid trip to watch the Black Stars.
The three winners would be given over GH¢100,000 in packages, which include round trip air tickets, accommodation, and match tickets.
The amount of money these companies are putting in sponsorships and give aways, is an indication of how much they are making. In addition to the profits, betting companies are also able to legitimize their products by associating gambling in the public eye with wholesome activities and brands like sports teams.
In jail for stealing to bet
There are records of devastating stories of three young men in jail for stealing large amounts of money from their employers to bet. Two ongoing cases involve the theft of GH¢7000 and a whopping GH¢1 million to bet. In the third case which has been concluded a year ago, the young man is serving a 15-year jail term for stealing GH¢139,000 to bet.
Saddick Amoah is a 23-year-old employed as salesman at a Fan Milk depot located at Ashaiman in Accra. He has been arrested for gambling away GH¢7,000 of his employer’s money.
A 19-year-old man, Nana Nhyira Agyapong, who worked as an Administrative Officer with Kabfam Company Limited, an electronics items company, is standing trial for allegedly stealing over GH¢1 million from his employer. Agyapong told prosecutors that he spent the GH¢1, 079,728 on sports betting. He was found out after an internal audit.
Yussif Abubakar, who was employed by the Hohoe branch of Star Oil Company was given a 15-year jail term for stealing GH¢139,118 belonging to his employer. Abubakar used the money to bet. I made efforts to speak to Abubakar in prison, but he declined.
These three are likely examples of the extreme impacts of betting addiction and its potential to destroy young lives.
Betting for five years, won only GH¢90
He has bright eyes and exudes lots of confidence. For someone who is 25 years old, he looked like someone who has gone through a lot in life already and knows what he was aiming at, but whatever it was, I couldn’t immediately tell. Five years of his life he has been betting. Tells me his name is Golden. Says he bets every Saturday, and sometimes on Sundays. But I was interviewing him on a Wednesday. He however says it’s because there was a mid-week game.
It turns out from his explanation, that he bets four times a week. Golden who also says he is a Nigerian migrant and has been living in Koforidua for three years, makes a living by selling mobile phone accessories and spends between GH¢30 to GH¢40 daily to bet. He has so far won GH¢90. He has no idea how much he has lost in his five years of betting.
“It was a total of GH¢150, but one of the games was voided and so I was left with GH¢90,” he said, adding that he has had more losses than wins. Golden may not keep tabs of his exact losses but using his own estimated daily spend and assuming three bets a week, Golden wastes around GH¢5000 a year on gambling.
For instance, Joel who dropped out of university at Level 100, says he has been betting for three years now, and was drawn to betting for the love of the game. He says he bets every day. He earns some money from selling phone accessories as well.
“I spend not less than GH¢60 to GH¢70 to bet,” he says.
He however believes that no one should gamble all their money and so he ensures that he saves some of his daily sales before he comes to the betting centre.
“You bet and lose GH¢20. You would want to get back that GH¢20 and you bet again, but then you might end up losing again,” he said.
The highest amount Joel says he has ever won was GH¢2000.
Like most of the patrons in the centre that afternoon, Joel, holding a GH¢20 slip in his hand, says he has lost more than he has won.
When asked why he keeps going to the betting centre, he provides an analogy: “Just like someone who is smoking.” While insisting he is not addicted, he says, “it’s become part of me. I’m finding a way to stop because it can’t help me.”
“I want to stop. In the past I would be holding 4 or 5 slips in my hands, but now I have only one to show that gradually I want to get rid of it,” he says.
Joel also believes that betting makes the youth lazy. “They are supposed to go out there and hustle to make money, but they are here spending the little money they have gambling. Gambling won’t make you have money in your pocket. It would make you spend what you have. While you may win, there is always a slim chance of you winning. It’s like when you get into a coma, there is a slim chance of you coming back, that’s how it is,” he says.
Joel, moreover, doesn’t want others, especially his family members to know he is into sports betting. The sense of shame underlines the fact that betting in Ghana has not yet been normalized as a social activity.
In the historical suburb of Teshie in the Greater Accra Region, I met these impressionable young men. One of them, Abdul, argues that betting is better than working for someone. “If I work for someone, I get paid GH¢800 a month. But I can make that money in a day. I placed GH¢1000 and I won almost GH¢2000 yesterday. GH¢1,753, plus this GH¢200, making GH¢1,953. That’s almost GH¢2000. I can’t go and sit in someone’s shop and be paid GH¢800 a month while I can take 10 minutes and win GH¢1000 or GH¢2000,” he says.
Asked if he has considered how much he has gained against how much he has lost, he responded: “It’s a game of chance. It’s a risk.”
Betting has reduced crime here
They told me they are experienced in sports betting, and believe because of betting, crime in their community where they all grew up has gone down.
30-year-old Kpakpo is a graduate of the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology. He has a degree in construction technology.
“I won’t say betting has disappointed me. I know so many people who bet secretly, they don’t want people to know because of our religiosity,” he says and quickly adds: “Betting has reduced stealing in our community. These days instead of stealing, most young people in the community are betting. If you see a young man sitting quietly in a corner with his phone, he is betting,” Kpakpo said confidently and goes on to narrate his betting experience in the week. “We started with GH¢500. If the GH¢500 gets finished within that week, then we know we have lost. That GH¢500 is gone, so you know you have to get another GH¢500 to get back your money before you get some interest (profit).
For me these days they have destroyed (shut) my account so I go with one, one cedi. They destroyed my account because I was losing too much,” he said.
But his friend and betting partner, 24-year-old Abdul, who started betting 10 years ago when he was 14, believes if he got a job that offered him good pay, he won’t be betting.
“If there was a better job that can pay us good salary, no one would be betting. If I get a job that pays me a minimum of GH¢1,500 a month. I will be fine. All my moves I make as I do other things, in a month I make like GH¢5000. I can’t go and sit in a container for someone and be paid GH¢500 a month.
Now even when you graduate from university you can’t find a job. This one that is here (pointing to his friend Kpakpo), he has a degree. But he is in the house,” says Abdul.
Kpakpo, who at that time was working on a survey for a contractor, said he was supposed to cover 25 households, but he wasn’t done. He however, had come to the betting centre to meet his friends to bet.
He says: “We are working for 17 days, and we are being paid GH¢1,700.”
His friend Abdul chips in, “After the 17 days, you are back to the house. No job, and the government doesn’t give a heck about you,” he snarls.
“The only way we can stop betting is if the economy improves. Look at the way inflation is going?” He asks. “So, for me, the betting is better. While I don’t do betting full-time, for me it’s serious business, it’s an investment,” he adds, and indicates that he also has investments in cryptocurrency.
The young men believe that betting is the only source for their financial freedom, and they are looking to raise money and leave Ghana for another country.
The young men of Tamale betting for a living
When I headed off to the Northern Regional capital of Tamale, I had no idea what to expect. But I wasn’t prepared for what I found.
Rahman (not his real name), a Senior High School graduate is 27 years old and jobless. He has lived all his life in Tamale where he was born.
“I consider betting as my job. Betting is the only thing that gives me money and puts food on my table,” he says. Rahman tells me he bets every day and spends not less than GH¢50 daily.
When I asked him how often he wins, he responds: “Sometimes you can bet for a whole month and not win. Your chances of winning are lower than your chances of losing. You lose more than you win.” His highest win so far was GH¢2,500, he tells me.
He says he spends time betting because he has no job and betting is fun.
“If I have a job, I wouldn’t concentrate much on betting. A job would minimise my time betting, even though I would place more money on betting, but I won’t stop,” he says.
Rahman who has betting apps like Betway and SportyBet on his phone, says he’s never been to a betting shop and bets only on his phone.
He also believes betting is helping the youth; it’s brought them opportunities, and they are earning money they probably wouldn’t be able to earn at their age.
For 25-year-old Ibrahim (not his real name) who also has no job, he bets to survive; and when I asked him how he makes money to bet, he says, he works at construction sites and uses the money he makes to bet.
“I have been betting for more than five years now. I am betting because I have no job and I am looking for money. My view is that if I bet, I can make more money than if I was just sitting down doing nothing. I bet everyday so I can earn something to take care of myself,” he says.
Ibrahim says he saves about 30 per cent of what he makes from construction sites into his betting account and sometimes, his girlfriend supports him with money and prayers so he would win. Ibrahim, however, says his highest win so far was GH¢1000, and adds that even if he gets a regular job, he will continue to bet. “If I earn more, I’ll put in more money than I’m doing now to bet,” he says.
Known by his nickname Gbargbar, he is 32 years and married with two children. He works at a betting shop as a bouncer. He says his salary isn’t enough and therefore tries his luck at betting to supplement his income.
“I’ve more wins than losses”, he says and adds that even if he gets a job that pays him more than he was currently earning, he will still bet, because he doesn’t spend too much money on betting. Gbargbar says he spends as little as GH¢2 or GH¢3 to bet and therefore doesn’t see that as a problem. In the meantime, his wife supports his betting and gives him money to bet whenever he asks her.
Regulation of the Industry
In most countries where gambling is legal, the practise is subject to laws and regulation by an independent body. In Ghana the Gaming Commission issues licenses, monitors gaming operators, and is supposed to ensure compliance with the law. However, illegal facilities reportedly continue to operate, causing high rates of underage gambling. Abdul from Teshie would have been an underage gambler when he first started at 14.
Besides addiction, children betting is another scourge associated with the industry. Sports betting companies in Ghana are required to block minors from using their services. However, unauthorised betting shops abound, circumventing these rules. The Gaming Commission does not appear to have adequate training and government support to carry out its duties.
International best practice also insists that companies who profit off gambling must issue conspicuous gambling-addiction advice. This includes advertising campaigns about the ills of gambling addiction and being able to self-ban, a fact gambling operators are forced to respect.
Ghana’s gambling crisis
It seems, the government and the Gaming Commission have staked a lot on gambling being a net good for society, without enabling effective oversight. This is a dangerous wager.
Ghana is currently in an economic crisis. The country’s debt has spiralled out of control exceeding 80 per cent of GDP. With inflation above 40 per cent, the highest in decades, cost of living and the cost of doing business have gone high. The dire economic situation, worsened by the COVID-19 pandemic, Russia-Ukraine war and mismanagement by the government, doesn’t portend well for the country’s teeming youth, who in search of relief and for a living are getting snared by betting.
While the youth are delving deep and getting hooked, the betting companies are smiling all the way to the bank.
Photos: Emmanuel K Dogbevi and Marvelous Essiam.
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