Betting on the Next Celebrity Death
Finding humour in talking about distasteful or taboo subjects is variously regarded as comedic bravery, sinking to a self-demeaning personal low, or cynically exploiting the circumstances of unfortunate people for personal gain. It’s either publicly exposing what some may secretly think anyway, or it’s profiting in some way from individual misfortune, which, it’s argued, might have afflicted any one of us. These kinds of debates can usually be left to those who have the time for them. But it’s important to know that so-called ‘celebrity death betting’ is already with us and therefore throws up just this kind of sick challenge (pun intended!). Online casinos in Canada and elsewhere let you place bets on when certain celebrities will die, and the number of betting options available could be more than you imagine.
Who will die first?
A ‘respectable’ 18th-century gentleman investor’s approach to profiting from human mortality is the ‘tontine’: A group arrangement whereby individuals contribute equally to an investment loan, and are paid a small annual return on their investment. As the years go by and the tontine members gradually die off, so the share of the annual profits grows larger. Finally, the last man standing owns the entire investment fund as well as any further investment profit gained up to that point.
Fast forward to the 20th and 21st centuries and, if you know where to look, you’ll find ‘death pools’: a kind of everyman’s opportunity to mix pop culture, fantasy sports and pure bad taste. The idea would be to pick a dozen or so celebrity figures thought likely to pass away during any particular year. A points rating system would ensure that it might not always be the oldest members of the chosen group who were most likely to die – think of a wild teenage hell-raiser or a crazy stuntman vs a frail but sober celebrity of advancing years. With scores accumulating according to the mounting death toll throughout the year, the pool winner would be the one with the largest points tally at the close of the year.
Celebrity death betting in the Internet age
In an age where trash and poor taste can be saleable commodities it is perhaps inevitable that some bookmakers could be tempted to set odds for which of two royal figures will die first. So don’t be surprised if you come across a ‘deathmatch’ on the mybookie site in which the likelihood of the first death between Queen Elizabeth and Prince Phillip (before 31st December 2019) is quoted as the Queen +100 and Prince Phillip -140.
And this kind of ‘shock’ tactic can be amplified if the two opposing contenders have some kind of self-inflicted, and preferably ultra-decadent personal shortcomings (such as the worst forms of drug addiction) to make the gauging of the morbidity factor attaching to each far from straightforward. This kind of ‘contest’ brings up matches such as: Who will die first – Charlie Sheen or Magic Johnson? The odds given are Sheen at -200 and Johnson at +160. Sheen is six years younger, but Johnson (a former athlete) is taller and there are various lifestyle factors such as cocaine addiction, alcoholism, mental stability and more to weigh in the balance.
A race to the gutter?
Who knows where this trend may go when the commercial entity prepared to offer the worst in bad taste maybe stands to reap the most profit? But can you actually place a bet in an online casino on whether former public figures, now convicted sex offenders, like Bill Cosby or Rolf Harris will die in prison? Sure you can! With Cosby, for instance, you’ll get -450 that it will happen and +250 that it won’t happen.
And if you really have the stomach for it, you can also bet on group death pools featuring characters bound together by a common thread. ‘Alleged Sexual Deviants’ anybody? Yes, you can get real online casino odds on who’ll die first from: Subway Jared (+1000), Harvey Weinstein (+800), Jerry Sandusky (+600), Roman Polanski (+250), Bill Cosby (+100) and Jerry Lee Lewis (+150).
All this asks the question of what bad taste really is. And though we may mostly feel fairly sure about that, this type of wager is not as far away from betting, for example, on fight sports as we might like to think. And perhaps, at the end of the day, it’s as much about taking responsibility for deciding your own personal limits rather than relying on a kind of shared public morality to do the job for you.