After hearing a lot of rumours about the sports betting craze, my curiosity was piqued. So I stormed one of the many betting spots in Remera on Saturday. I found it packed to the brim. In fact, it was almost impossible to enter and motorcycles clogged the entrance.
After jostling, I found my way in. I found people, the majority moto-taxi riders, staring at a notice board filled with papers. Their concentration was alarming. They were scribbling notes on their little notebooks.
With their helmets on their heads and the other strapped around their arms, these men, who should have been transporting people around the city, seemed to have forgotten all about work. I walked to the board just to see which team I could put my money on. To my dismay, I didn’t know any of the teams on the board. I’ve been a soccer fan for long but still didn’t recognise any. The teams were from Turkey and other obscure countries. Luckily, there was another sheet on which I saw English and Spanish teams.
I entered right before the Chelsea FC- Aston Villa game. Interestingly enough, the majority of the punters put their money on Aston Villa, the smaller team, hoping for an upset. By the time the game begun the room was packed with people from different walks of life.
What surprised me the most was meeting a man who wore a Chelsea shirt but wished for an Aston Villa win. “To be honest, I am a Chelsea fan. But this is more than what I support; it’s all about the money. The first time I got a lot of money from sports betting, which was also the most in my life, was when I bet against Chelsea,” he said. “But I can’t say that every time I bet against Chelsea I win. However, I still believe in that luck.”
Paul (not real name) has been betting for two years now and says he can’t stop. He bet on the Manchester City vs. Manchester United match in 2011 and won 187,000 francs. From that day, in his opinion, betting was the way to go.
“Before winning that kind of money, I had never really been a betting fan. But after that, I stopped betting for a week when many people told me not to bet again. But I didn’t listen, I went back and lost over and over again though I still had hope of winning,” he said.
“I earn a salary and really plan well for it. However, the moment I pass by a betting joint, I just can’t help but start looking through the games schedule. My mind always plays tricks.”
Paul has since lost about 500,000 francs and this caused problems between him and his wife. He stopped after his wife left him but as soon as she returned and they had settled for a month, he started betting again - but this time secretly.
David Muleme, a motorcyclist says betting is something he does for fun. “I enjoy football and I come and bet once in a while but I’ve never spent lots of money betting. Many people tell me that it is very addictive after a big win,” he said as he kept looking at the screen.
A win-win situation?
Ndoli (not real name), an attendant in one of the sports betting bars says the business is lucrative.
“There are weekends when we leave this place with millions and there are weekends when we leave with just peanuts. But customers win big. Last month someone won over 700,000 francs and after that we got more customers who made us a lot of money,” he said.
“Days with big games are actually not as profitable as many people may think. Usually teams almost have equal odds and players that win don’t go home with a big package. Of course on our side, we gain a lot since many people get to bet and not a lot of money is taken. People do win a lot. I can’t really tell how many wins we can have during the weekend. They are too many,” he said.
“Can’t serve two masters”-Pastor
Pastor Isaac Muhima of Jesus’ Assembly Church says the Bible contains no specific commandments warning believers to avoid gambling. However, the Good Book does contain timeless principles for living a life pleasing to God and is filled with wisdom to deal with every situation, including gambling.
“Betting sites and lotteries promise thrills and excitement; obviously people gamble to try to win money. Scriptures give very specific instructions about what our attitude should be toward money. For example Ecclesiastes 5:10 states ‘Whoever loves money never has money enough’. Whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with his income. This is meaningless,” he said.
He added that according to Luke 16:13, Jesus says that no servant can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. “You cannot serve both God and money”, the pastor ended.
After all these stories, I put my money back in my pocket and left the place, afraid of ending up being captive by this addiction.