GAME OF HOPE: Pool Betting
An aging Nigerian man who has never left his village recounts, in startling detail, his knowledge of the English Premiership League. A blind man smiles as he holds a crackling transistor radio to his ear, the commentary of a live football game blaring into the room. A local driver, a retired construction worker, a desperate breadwinner – these are just some of the characters that can be found in the Oje Pool House in Ibadan.
Football betting pools, a cultural import from 1920s Britain, are popular in Nigeria among the elderly, retired workers and the unemployed. Gamblers risk their money on their ability to forecast the results of 49 league matches played across all divisions of the English Football League. The matches are detailed on coupon sheets.
The promoters of these football pools are mostly Lebanese or Syrian immigrants who operate with licenses issued by the Nigerian federal government. Pool agents are the link between the promoters and bettors. They are always Nigerian.
Pool houses can be found everywhere in Nigeria. Gamblers arrive at the crack of dawn and often stay until dark, in the hope of wining the jackpot of up to 400, 000 Naira - the equivalent of the average annual wage among workers in Nigeria.
According to one pool agent, Akinode Adikole, “Pool is a business of luck. When you win you rejoice, when you lose you are sad and you accept your fate”. The successful businessman has had his fair share of luck, enabling him to rent a house and buy a TV, Hi-fi system and various other possessions.
However, most betting men walk away empty handed and console themselves in the company of friends who gather at the pool houses to play card games, draughts and Ayo (a Yoruba board game).