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Influencers are getting young Nigerians hooked on online gambling - REST OFWORLD

DECEMBER 07, 2023

While sports betting is legal in Nigeria, experts say the government should have more oversight on the influencer culture.


In May, a Nigerian student died by suicide after losing his and a friend’s school fees to gambling.

  • Several social media influencers with millions of followers frequently promote online sports betting in the country.
  • Experts say the influencers are fueling an addiction and the government needs to step in to curb them.

Kelvin was just 18 years old when he placed his first bet on a European football match at a neighborhood betting shop in Lagos in 2015. Over the following years, he continued to visit such shops to bet small amounts on a game he loved, hoping to make a quick buck.

In 2020, during the Covid-19 lockdowns, Kelvin stumbled upon an Instagram account promoting Melbet, an online betting company. Hundreds of posts showed winning tickets on which bettors had made huge amounts of money. Kelvin promptly joined the Telegram channel linked to the Instagram account, and decided to gamble part of the money set aside for his school fees.

He won the first bet. Then, in the subsequent bets, he lost all the money. But that didn’t stop him. “Seeing these accounts posting huge wins influences me and a lot of people,” Kelvin, who asked to use only his first name to avoid being identified by his employers, told Rest of World.

Now a 26-year-old software developer, Kelvin uses multiple gambling platforms like Melbet, 1xbet, and Sportybet, and follows several influencers and content creators on TikTok, X (formerly Twitter), and Telegram for betting tips. Each weekend, he spends around 200,000 naira ($249) on the bets. He said it doesn’t matter to him if he loses the money. 

Influencer marketing has lured millions of young Nigerians to gambling, which was once stigmatized in the country. Social media accounts with millions of followers frequently advertise massive returns on online sports betting. Experts told Rest of World the influencer endorsements are fueling an addiction as desperate youth look for ways to survive in a tough economic environment. They believe this trend is thriving because of an absence of government oversight.

In May, a Nigerian student died by suicide after losing his and a friend’s school fees to gambling.

“Online sports betting in Nigeria has become more addictive [because] the influencers have also replicated the same social networking associated with [physical betting], where people converge online to maximize their chances of winning while offering privacy and convenience,” Tunde Adebisi, who researches youth culture and football gambling at the University of Ulster in Northern Ireland, told Rest of World. He said influencers can be more effective at advertising gambling, compared to betting brands — some of which have now begun working with the influencers. While sports betting is legal in Nigeria, the government needs to monitor the rise in influencer culture around it, Adebisi said. “The regulation does not address the reality in today’s world. It does not address the issues of influencers having to influence people to come and engage in betting,” he said.

Around 57.2% of school-age children in Nigeria were estimated to have gambled at least once in their lifetime, according to a 2019 paper on gambling in the country. In 2020, Nigeria’s sports betting industry crossed $2 billion in size.

“I had to gather the money from my part-time teaching salary and got some loans to play the game in August.”

Gamble Alert, a Nigerian nonprofit that helps people with gambling addictions, has seen an “exponential increase” in people seeking their services in the past two years, CEO Fisayo Oke told Rest of World. “The sports betting industry in Nigeria has embarked on an aggressive marketing campaign with very low attention to responsible gaming messages,” he said. “That advertisement model is what has translated into the social media space, where you see a whole lot of affiliates who are continuously promoting gaming companies for their own gain.”

Toheeb Badmus, a sophomore at the University of Lagos, earned around 50,000 naira ($63) over the past three months from a tutoring gig. By now, he has lost about 60% of that money to online sports betting, he told Rest of World. “I had to gather the money from my part-time teaching salary and got some loans to play the game in August,” he said. “My gambling history for the past few months has been bad. I’ve been losing for the past few months, playing often and losing steadily.”

But he has no plans to stop.

“Your attitude will change when you see most of [the influencers] win big, and you, who play with little money, will feel like putting huge amount of money so that you can have it, too,” he said. Badmus is inspired by Mr. Banks, a faceless X account with more than a million followers. Mr. Banks also runs a Telegram group with over 300,000 members. “[You see them] win 60 million naira,” Badmus said. “You also want to win that — even though the risk is high.”

Sixty-five million Nigerians spend an average of $15 per day on betting, according to Bello Maigari, executive secretary of the National Lottery Trust Fund, a government agency that uses part of the revenue from gambling for social causes. On Nigerian social media, online betting is promoted mainly in two ways: direct ads run by betting companies, or independent creators endorsing betting platforms. Popular influencers include comedian and actor Emmanuel Ejekwu, who has more than 4.5 million followers; actor Samuel Perry with more than 4.1 million followers; and actor Adebowale Adedayo (Mr. Macaroni) with over 1.9 million followers — all on TikTok. They could earn anywhere between 200,000 naira ($237) and 2 million naira ($2,371) for promoting betting platforms.

The appeal of potentially big wins makes it easier for these creators to influence willing gamblers, according to Kendyson Douglas, CEO of Selar, a startup that helps African creators monetize their content. “You don’t need to be an expert to gamble,” he told Rest of World. “That’s literally the sell — that luck and chance and one or two ‘informed’ decisions can land you a big score. That’s something anyone can buy into, regardless of an influencer’s demography.”

Some lesser-known influencers also run Telegram channels where they share tips on online betting. Rest of World observed 12 such channels in October and November, each of which had between 20,000 and 350,000 members. The administrators of these channels promoted multiple ways to place bets, and shared snapshots of tickets that had won huge sums to inspire members to play more. 

Adebisi believes these accounts have underhanded relationships with betting companies, and make money by promoting their business. “These [accounts] are not promoting any particular brands, but they are promoting the desired outcomes of betting,” he said.

Rest of World reached out to the administrators of the betting channels on Telegram for comment but did not receive a response by the time of publishing. 

 is a writer and journalist based in Lagos, Nigeria.


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