MATADI — Elie Luemba says her youngest son fooled her and her husband for far too long. "We used to give him a little money every morning to buy himself donuts at school," she says. "But he was actually using the money to bet on sports results with his classmates."

The irony is that Luemba only just recently found out because her son was asked to come with one of his parents to the betting shop to collect his winnings.

Ever since a lottery company opened Paris Foot, a chain of betting operations, in the capital of Congo's Bas-Congo province at the end of last year, young people have flocked there not only to test their soccer knowledge, but also to try and profit from it.

"I started betting on soccer as soon as the shop opened in Matadi," explains 18-year-old Mardochée Nombe. "A ticket costs 300 Congolese francs ($0.32). After many attempts, it paid off recently and I made 103,800 Congolese francs ($112). So I'll continue to play."

Many other Matadi teens are now gambling on a regular basis. A quick walk along the port city's many arteries is enough too see how popular these gambling operations have become. The enthusiasm among the betters can be gauged by their stares into the green boards and red betting machines.

Playing real soccer in Kindu, DRC — Photo: Julien Harneis

Meeting the principal

But in the face of their popularity are the parents and schools opposed to these shops. "It deters children from school because they soon become more interested in money than going to class," one teacher laments. "They do go to school early in the morning, but after the first break at 9 a.m., some of them leave the building and don't return for the rest of the day. Instead, they spend hours at Paris Foot."

Some headmasters have offered to meet with the betting company's managers to try and examine the problem with them. But employees of Paris Foot insist that they don't encourage minors to gamble. "Every time we have to pay gains to non-adults, we insist on the presence of one of the parents," one of the workers says.

The company has also done some good things since it arrived in Matadi, recruiting young men and women for work selling betting tickets in the city's main arteries and squares. They are part-time jobs that don't pay much, but it's better for qualified youths to work than to stay home idly. "After studying humanities, I changed to computer science," explains Mamie K. "But because I still couldn't find a proper job, I agreed to work for Paris Foot." A safer bet that gambling itself.