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Highbrow Betting Is a Growing Trend That Takes the Fun Off of The Field


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Highbrow BettingHeard about the latest thing to hit the multi-billion dollar betting industry? It’s called “Highbrow” or “Cultural” betting, and it refers to betting on non-sporting cultural events like the Nobel Prize for Literature.

Yep, betting on the Nobel, or the Man Booker Prize, or the Pulitzer, or other highbrow events is in. Very in. In fact, Ladbrokes, a London online betting company, says that such betting has been growing quickly in popularity in recent years. For example, betting on the Man prize at Ladbrokes has increased from $6,400 in 2005 to $24,000 in 2013. That’s nearly a four-fold increase in just eight years. Betting on the Nobel Prize has increased from a little over $1,600 in 2005 to nearly $32,000 this year – an amazing 2,000% increase!

Lowbrow Betting Gets Bump

In addition to the above very highbrow betting, there’s also been a big bump in betting on less sophisticated cultural events like American Idol or who will be the next Batman if Mr. Affleck bows out. This kind of “special” betting is now worth a whopping $4.8 million per year to Ladbrokes, and is increasing with other large bookmakers as well.

American Idol Betting Odds

William Hill, a UK betting shop, has pioneered cultural betting. Graham Sharp, their media projects director, says they actually have a “Cultural File” to handle cultural betting. He feels the firm should broaden its reach to attract people who wouldn’t otherwise bet on anything. He noted that the firm is the official bookie for the Mercury Prize, an annual UK music prize awarded for best album.

What Are the Odds?

How do they calculate odds? With horse racing and baseball there are statistics galore, but what about novels in contention for the Nobel Prize? Sharp says they basically evaluate critical response. Translation: they follow the buzz. What about evaluating the materials involved in awards like the Mercury? He says he has now passed that responsibility on to younger colleagues.

Still Small Potatoes

Still, cultural betting continues to be a minor endeavor. The $32,000 accepted by Ladbrokes on the Nobel Prize in Literature is small change compared to the hundreds of thousands that are regularly bet on big sporting events. And it turns out that sports like football, rather than culture, are offsetting horse racing with bookies.

Do it Online

Not surprisingly in today’s Internet-connected world, about half the bets placed with the big bookmakers are placed online. This may be a significant factor in the increased popularity of cultural betting. Hype is also a big reason for its growing popularity. The UK betting firm Paddy Power hired former basketball great Dennis Rodman to promote betting on the Papal election. The thinking is that if you place your money on a 500 to 1 long shot cardinal, even if he’s someone that you think wouldn’t make a very good Pope; you will have your gigantic winnings to compensate you for the spiritual disappointment you’ll undoubtedly suffer if your longshot comes in.

Okay, let’s say you’ve decided you want to place a highbrow bet. Currently, most cultural betting is being handled by UK-based betting firms like William Hill and Paddy Power. As noted earlier, cultural bets can be made with these firms simply by visiting their websites. Once there you must establish an account, which involves providing your name and address, a chosen currency, a daily deposit limit and credit card details. Easy, right? On Paddy Power’s website, simply search on “Current Affairs” and, after you’ve established an account, you can bet on anything from the next Pope to the next Archbishop of Canterbury to when Julian Assange will leave the Ecuadorian Embassy.

Follow the Buzz

William Hill had heavily favored Canadian writer Alice Munro to win the 2013 Nobel Prize for Literature, which she did, at favored odds of 12 to 1. So there really are well-read people at these betting outfits who decide on the odds – with a little help from public opinion. Like Hill’s Graham Sharp implied, they follow the buzz. After all, how else would you calculate odds, since there are no statistics? Gut instinct, as it turns out.

So the growth of cultural betting, or novelty betting as it’s sometimes called, is on the rise, and projected to explode over the next decade, as people search for ways to express their continuing absorption with Western culture. You heard it here first.