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“With CAN 2022, I plunged again”: in Senegal, the fever of online sports betting

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A Senegalese supporter in a vacant lot near Dakar airport on February 7, shortly before the return to the country of the national team, victorious in the CAN in Cameroon.

For a year, Eli Manel Ndiaye had managed to prevent himself from frequenting sports betting sites. He kept in memory the burning memory of these 600,000 CFA francs (915 euros) wagered in the hope of paying for a trip to Europe – and lost. “But with the African Cup of Nations [CAN], I started betting again, testifies this seller of smartphones from Dakar. The occasion seemed too good when the competition ended in Cameroon, Sunday, February 6, with a victory for Senegal. At the risk of reconnecting with a form of addiction?

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This can have dramatic consequences. “The game made me do everything. Pursue robberies that earned me a six-month stay in prison, nights in the street and so on…”, says Lamine Lô, addicted for four years. At 22, the Dakarois is unemployed but says he is ready to accept anything to be able to bet. “I lit my first cigarette after losing at the games and made my mother cry because of my actions. Every day I decide to stop, but it’s stronger than me”he continues.

Access to the sites, child’s play

In Senegal, since the launch of online betting in 2018, the fervor has won the players. The sites have multiplied and continue to gain new followers. The Senegalese National Lottery (Lonase), which deals with the regulation of games of chance and until then granted licenses to bookmakers, launched its own platform on the occasion of the CAN 2022 to take advantage of a market which continues to grow. According to data from the parastatal, turnover is up 50% every year. For football bets alone, 50 billion CFA francs were wagered in 2021 (about 76.2 million euros), of which 40 billion were returned to the winners.

The consequence of this enthusiasm? An increased risk of addiction. From the outset, however, Lonase approached the Center for Integrated Addiction Management in Dakar (Cepiad). “But since our investigations in 2018 and 2019, nothing has been done in a concrete way”laments Idrissa Ba, addiction psychiatrist and coordinator of Cepiad: “More than 50% of the players questioned had a severe gambling addiction, sometimes with depression. More and more, we receive requests for support, especially from students. The risk increases with the Internet. » Cepiad advocates raising public awareness through communication campaigns and, above all, applying strict control of the ban on minors.

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On the side of Lonase, we claim to be determined to want to counter the phenomenon. “If Cepiad’s recommendations could not be applied, it is because of the Covid-19 pandemic”, justifies Mamadou Guèye, its secretary general. For the time being, the national lottery has set up a switchboard to listen to victims, and the regulator is studying the possibility of capping daily bets. Finally, the presentation of an identity document is compulsory at the gaming kiosks. Access to online platforms, on the other hand, is child’s play. After having entered your telephone number, all you have to do is certify that you are of legal age by checking a box. “But to receive the winnings, minors will be blocked because they can be identified through their phone number”, we say to Lonase.

Islam prohibits gambling

At the Ministry of Youth, we assure you want to do everything possible to dissuade the youngest from frequenting online betting sites. “We want to develop advocacy and ban the advertising of games”explains Mor Khoudia Ndiaye, its secretary general. While today football stars are promoting sports betting, other celebrities could be asked to publicly discuss the harmful effects and thus provide a counterweight. In the coming months, a citizenship education program should be launched, with a component devoted to raising awareness of the risks of gambling.

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In the meantime, nothing seems to thwart the rise of sports betting in a country where Islam, which prohibits gambling, is nevertheless ultra-dominant. A success that is largely due to the proliferation of online sites, which make it possible to reach new players, while going to a gaming kiosk is generally frowned upon. “Some people can escape social and religious taboos by betting from home”describes Eric Assoun, managing director of Premier Bet, the leader in sports betting in Senegal: “We also reach a more affluent class through this. » Among them, the businessman Djibril Diouf, a fan of online betting, who nevertheless regrets having recently lost 1.4 million CFA francs in a single day. ” Occasionallyhe acknowledges, I tell myself that I should have invested elsewhere. »

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