After the Nigerian sports betting company, MSport changed its policy overnight earlier this month to avoid paying bettors what they had won, the industry reaction was immediate.
Many punters saw this as an excess on the part of the company.
@MayorofTwitter, a famous account in the Nigerian sports betting circle, had sent what insiders describe as “safe play”.
Sure games are predictions that are almost certain to win. Popular punters in the space after years of watching sports and their results regularly make these predictions in part to advertise their credentials as experts and build their bragging rights in the space. Sometimes they share certain games with their followers on Twitter or on their blogs for those who have them, sometimes for a fee. Other times as gifts.
With the rise of Telegram chat rooms in the space, the sports betting community in Nigeria has been able to create a community of bettors who pass codes to each other for predictions with high chances of winning millions of naira.
Through this network, the 440 odds betting code went viral, with a stake of 7,500 Naira, promising bettors a payout of up to 5.5 million Naira including bonuses..
The game was won by a good number of bettors at the same time. But MSport, the sports betting platform on which the game was played, changed its policies overnight, drastically reducing the expected payout to less than N1.5m after the game was played and won. .
Now, it is not uncommon for sports betting companies to discount the odds of a match when punters bet on it. In fact, it is common practice for them to reduce users’ chances of betting when it is obvious that many users are playing at odds.
What was unusual was that the betting companies changed the odds after the match had been played and the outcome was known. This is what happened with MSport, angering many Nigerians on Twitter.
And, the “MSportScam” hashtag started trending.
The tipping point
For industry insiders, this was the tipping point.
After claims that MSport defrauded bettors rose to the top of the Twitter trending chart, the National Lotteries Regulatory Commissionthe federal body responsible for licensing betting companies in Nigeria, invited the company, promising in a tweet that “MSport will pay out all winnings as soon as possible and unblock all blocked accounts within a short period of time.”
The NLCR had a meeting with a representative from MSport, Funmilola Akingbelu. After that, he announced that punters would receive their winnings as soon as possible. It came after at the height of the social media affair, NLC chief executive Lanre Gbaja promised to investigate the matter.
“The NLRC is on top of the issues related to this complaint, we are working to resolve all issues amicably between our various stakeholders. Rest assured that the Commission is constantly on the lookout to combat illegal and fraudulent activity in the gaming industry,” Gbaja said in a tweet at the time.
The meeting was followed by a visible resolution as punters began receiving their complaints:
A history of irregularities
It’s a tactic that has become too familiar to regular bettors. In Cameroon last year, sports betting company 1xBet refused to pay a user who had won $22 million from betting. This sparked a riot in the country.
Similarly, in March this year, SportyBet, another betting company in Nigeria, changed its terms after a user won claims of around 7 million naira, reducing the maximum winnings from 30 million to 25 million. .
It is tactics like this that have made sports betting a hotly debated issue around the world. In Germany, for example, sports betting has been completely banned. In the United States, the decision to regulate the sports betting industry has been left to each state.
In the UK, which has a thriving sports betting industry, regulatory debates are still ongoing. For example, today, football industry insiders: players, coaches, club owners, etc. have been banned from betting on football in the UK.
GamCare, an independent UK charity providing information, advice and support to anyone affected by problem gambling across Britain, has also been set up to ensure best practice is followed by betting companies sportsmen.
As the online sports betting industry in Africa has exploded in recent years, the need for customer protection laws has become very compelling. Some punters have reported that their accounts are emptied after using their debit cards to pay odds on sports betting platforms.
But very little has been done to protect them or make sure they get any answers. This may largely be because the industry has not had close government oversight and is often ruled by regulators powerless to enforce best practices.
What the NLRC move means for space
The NLRC’s new decision to limit the powers of these sports betting companies, led by Lanre Gbaja, for many in the industry has been felt as the long-awaited respite for years from the apparent irregularities that have occurred in space.
“Our voice has been heard. What we want is a fair and safe gaming environment. No cheating,” LouieDi13another popular handful in the space tweeted about Gbaja’s move.
The path to follow
While this decision is key in determining the future of the Nigerian sports betting industry, the NLRC still has some work to do before it can boast of a safe and healthy betting environment in the country like the require users.
But regulation that the industry doesn’t just have to do with how betting companies behave in the space. It will also include how bettors conduct themselves in space.
The NLRC will also need to look at ways to ensure that the ratings system is fair to all parties involved. There is still a lot of work to do. The NLRC has only just taken the first step.
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