Dr Oche Otorkpa has called for clearly displayed warnings on all betting sites. He says this could be invaluable in curbing problem gambling behaviour.

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Source: Goh Rhy Yan on Unsplash

Public Health Nigeria Executive Director, Dr Oche Otorkpa, has called for mandatory health hazard warning labels to be placed on all online bookmakers and casinos, and to be displayed at land-based bookmakers.

Online operators would also be required to issue a compulsory signoff to all customers, confirming that they understood the potential long-term damage that gambling could cause their lives and their families’ lives.

Otorkpa has asked the Federal Government and its relevant agencies (including the Ministry of Youth and Sports and the Federal Ministry of Health) to consider his demand as a matter of urgency. He pointed to the cigarette pack warning labels that the United States has enforced since 1965.

Smoking rates dropped dramatically after tobacco companies were required to display the warning labels on their products, the public health practitioner says, and adds that relevant health indicators had also significantly improved since that time.

Easy Wins Tempt Poverty-Stricken Youth

Large and clearly visible warning labels and signs could have the same effect on gambling as on smoking behaviour, Otorkpa feels. He continued that online betting addiction has increased Nigeria’s mental crisis, destroying lives and careers, decimating life savings and tearing families apart.

The crisis, the doctor continues, is so dire that parents addicted to gambling spend their money on casino games and sports bets rather than on their children – with the result that their offspring are malnourished, uneducated and vulnerable.

At the same time, says Otorkpa, young people are using their own money for gambling rather than education. He explains that students at secondary and tertiary institutions are now often seen begging for money on the streets, after losing their tuition and school fees to casinos and bookmakers.

Statistics show that around 60 million Nigerian citizens aged 18 to 40 years old actively participate in online sports betting. They spend an average of ₦3,000 each, and ₦2 billion in total, on the activity every day. With the high levels of unemployment and financial insecurity, it’s understandable that so many people are looking for a get-rich-quick scheme.

Gambling’s Pros and Cons Must Be Balanced

With the dire economic environment making irresponsible gambling behaviour even more tempting, Otorkpa appears to be saying, the suggested warning labels are even more imperative. He lists job loss, failed relationships, severe debt, depression and anxiety as common results of excess betting.

The extent and nature of the dangers of irresponsible gambling are clear, and the warning labels could go some way to prevent them. However, other steps must be taken to mitigate unemployment and educate players and bettors.

With the amount of revenue that casinos and sportsbooks bring in, they’re an important income generator for Nigeria. Authorities must determine how to maximise the industry’s advantages while minimising its disadvantages – which is never an easy line to walk.

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