Odds-makers thought they had it made. It was halfway through the 2018 Winter Olympics, and the well-hyped American duo of Matt and Becca Hamilton had led-off the Games with a downer appearance in the Mixed Curling competition. State-side bettors had been drawn to the Hamiltons’ charisma and to the prospect of a curling team from the USA winning a medal.
The siblings began with a 9-3 rout of OAR (Olympic Athletes from Russia) and seemed to be on their way. But then they fell apart, finishing seventh out of eight teams in the round robin and getting clobbered 9-1 by host Korea. Casinos collected on a nice number of lost wagers.
Then came the Men’s Curling event. Team USA’s foursome had been a surprise at the Olympic trials, a group of cast-offs known as The Rejects. Their odds were long. Few expected skip John Shuster’s team to go anywhere, and besides, the United States had never won more than a bronze medal in Olympic curling.
The victory waylaid a few bookies as well, as casinos paid out large sums to those who had gambled on the Yanks.
Don’t worry, though. Las Vegas is still in the black. It helped that curling wasn’t the most captivating sport to bet on in PyeongChang. Sure, the ice-sweeping is pretty great at 4 AM when the mind can’t handle anything more complicated. But it’s still half-crazy to lay down cash on groups of shouting, panicking people, running on the ice with brooms.
Curling is far from the only absurd sport that punters bet on around the world. Here’s a look at 9 goofy games for which odds and betting markets can be found.
In 2017, dozens of NFL players were accosted by league commissioner Roger Goodell after taking part in an arm wrestling tournament in Las Vegas. Each athlete’s winnings had gone to charity, and a good time was had by all. But the stuffed shirts of The Shield weren’t having it.
Why? Because there were loads of cash being wagered on James Harrison, Marshawn Lynch and other gridiron heroes in the arm wrestling competition – cash the league wasn’t seeing a penny of. A controversy arose when the NFL fined each of the players, leading many to cry foul over the league’s two-faced attitude toward Vegas.
“(The league is) always going to get a piece of the action”
lamented New Jersey state senator Raymond Lesniak about the fines. “That’s the bottom line for the NFL. It always has been.”
It’s strange that so much drama would come out of an arm wrestling tourney. As Sylvester Stallone showed awkwardly in Over The Top, it’s not exactly the most dramatic sport. Slow-motion replays look ridiculous, and there’s almost no TV or print coverage of the events. But punters haven’t placed their final bets on arm wrestling matches, nor will bodybuilders quit betting on their own biceps.
WWE Professional Wrestling
Betting on WWE matches is not sports gambling. It’s entertainment gambling, like betting on Days of Our Lives. It involves no actual competition.
Or does it? In truth, wrestlers do compete for air time and booking favor. A performer who is being pushed as a face, or a good guy, had better be getting cheers from crowds across North America and beyond. A heel, or bad guy, had better be getting booed.
Wrestlers must translate their athletic skills into exciting matches and hot crowd reaction or get booked to “job out,” or lose a pay-per-view match to a rising superstar.
The back-room combat creates movement in the odds. In fact, WWE odds often carry more value for the bettor than almost any real sport. Gamblers who follow wrestling zines, forums, and ring celebrities on social media are more apt to get a heads-up on what’s really going on with a heavily-promoted match.
When Hulk Hogan wrestled Shawn Michaels at SummerSlam in 2005, Hogan appeared to be booked to lose a one-off match to the younger, active grappler. But players with inside info knew that Hogan had creative control over his own bookings and little affection for being pinned. Those bettors cleaned up as Michaels fell victim to Hulkamania…and creative control.
Possibly the simplest sport in the world, cornhole involves teams, usually pairs, throwing bags of corn kernels at holes carved into two “dummy” boards. The term dummy should be taken as evidence that cornhole players don’t take themselves too seriously.
Most cornhole betting is local, a ceremonial wager made on friends at a county fair. But occasionally, odds are published on a cornhole championship. That’s when it gets fun.
In 2015, the Shekou organization based out of Hong Kong (where cornhole is a big deal for some reason) published a list of odds for their upcoming tourney. Without a doubt, the board stands as one of the most hilarious gambling documents ever published. Team names include Breaking Bags, Game of Throws, the underdog Natural Corn Killers, and (who could forget) We So Corny at (+10000) odds.
The Roaring Game is a great tradition and a suspenseful Olympic sport. Shuster’s team of rejects winning a surprise gold medal for the Stars and Stripes helped stir belief in Team USA after a disappointing start in PyeongChang.
But there are serious hurdles for the recreational gambler hoping to have a good time with curling. For one, the rules and terminology of the game can feel like an unsolvable riddle.
Each match ends at least ten times, or rather, each of ten rounds is called an end. A draw is a shot that hooks toward the house, or target, but draw is also a slang term for a scheduled game. The curling stone, or rock, or pancake is an elegant miracle of craft-making that deserves three nicknames. But no one deserves the agony of betting on a curling draw and then struggling to figure out the rules for 2 hours.
Curling is also a very slow sport, and a weak team losing to a stronger unit feels almost inexorable over the course of ten long ends. It’s like betting on a chess match. If someone’s pick loses an early Knight-Rook exchange to Garry Kasparov, the gambler can stick around all day but won’t get any good news.
A harness race, also known as a trotting race, is a sight to behold. At first, the races almost look like fast-forwarded footage of couples on romantic dates in Manhattan. Big wheels turning, elegant equine churning, the daily events draw novelty bettors and track experts alike.
But what is really strange about the sport is that the rules and odds are different in almost every country. In the United States, only standardbred horses are eligible to race, and lengths are almost always one mile. In Australia and New Zealand, the metric system is used, and officials are more lenient with breeds.
Harness racing is huge among gamblers in Sweden and Finland. Bookies offer a popular game called V75, which involves picking five or seven horses to win consecutively. In fact, animals and jockeys who specialize in trotting would be out of work if the wagers quit flowing in Scandinavia. Gambling has become the sport’s one and only lifeblood, which mirrors the situation our next weird sport is in.
Once a fad surging in popularity, jai alai (pronounced high-lye) has fallen in stature and notoriety over the past 50 years. Patxi, the Wayne Gretzky of jai alai, retired in 1983.
It’s not a lack of thrills keeping fans away. Jai alai has been called the fastest game in the world. The pelota has traveled through the fronton at speeds of nearly 200 mph. But if that sounds like jabberwocky, imagine how it sounded to American sports fans in the 1960s. People were drawn to ABC’s coverage of Patxi and jai alai out of plain curiosity. Soon, they realized it was merely a souped-up version of team handball with a dozen unfamiliar rules thrown in. The craze wore off.
Today, jai alai remains as a sport played almost strictly for gamblers. In fact, many frontons are built into casinos where the games serve as an action attraction. Rumors swirl about whether contests are rigged, the results fixed by hoodlums paying off the players. But competitor Leon Shepard told SB Nation in 2013 that any attempt to throw a jai alai match would be pointless and nearly impossible.
Cow Chip Tossing
Remember that thing about cornhole being the simplest sport in the world? Got to take that one back. The disgusting cake is taken by cow chip tossers, who compete in an ‘ack’-and-field poop-scooping event.
The rules are as elementary as they are gross. Cow chips are thrown at a rate of 2 turds per tosser, with the farthest throws placing at the top. Loose fragments of heaven-knows-what may be removed from the dung pads, provided the surgery does not reduce a chip to less than the minimum six inches in diameter.
And lo and behold, people bet on cow chip tossing. At the Wisconsin State Cow Chip Throw and Festival in Sauk City, bettors even play bingo based on exact locations that cow chips are, ahem, produced.
But you can’t blame the rural Midwestern folk. A silly community event is often their only chance to court Lady Luck. Putting 5 bucks on an idiot throwing a cow pad is harmless fun and does not threaten one’s relationship with a pastor like a $500 parlay on the Cavaliers and Celtics.
Well, if rocketry is a sport, Jules Verne can take some credit for foretelling it. But no impossible fairy tale has been turned into a real-life game as quickly or as memorably as Harry Potter’s handiwork.
Quidditch, or muggle quidditch, is an athletic event based on J.D. Rowling’s fairy tale of competitive flying sorcery. Instead of zooming around in the sky, teams of muggles run around a small soccer pitch with brooms between their legs while trying to handle a deflated volleyball. That sounds silly and stupid, and it is.
But the sport is growing thanks to a few crowd-pleasing gimmicks. In one, a neutral mischief-maker known as “the snitch” spends the match sneaking, hiding, and running onto the field to disrupt both teams. Snitches can even play practical jokes on the crowd. A snitch must be caught before games can end, which makes the final minutes of a quidditch battle feel like a rodeo.
Betting markets for the Quidditch World Cup began to appear in 2011 because we’re just that bored as a species.
Rock, Paper, Scissors
It’s not a shock that adults still play rock, paper, scissors. It’s not even surprising that we bet on it. NBA legend Michael Jordan is said to have thrown-down six figures on hand-versus-hand combat.
What’s crazy is how devoted the game’s top competitors are, and how convinced enthusiasts are that RPS is an actual sport. A sport, by definition, requires some kind of physical skill or athletic activity. Neither is required to play rock, paper, scissors. But don’t tell that to those who compete in the game’s World Championship tournaments.
i have concluded that this is one of the greatest videos on the internet pic.twitter.com/4uARohKNwp
— Joon Lee (@iamjoonlee) December 12, 2016
The World RPS Society has successfully incorporated the world of fast-lane betting into their game, or sport, or whatever it is. Members who cannot afford to bet real money on rounds of rock, paper, scissors are encouraged to gamble fake dollars provided by the organization, leading to “street hustle” tactics that are as harmless as Yahtzee throws.
Ranking the Weird Betting Sports
Okay, so which of these wacky wagers do I really recommend taking? Local-gambling-only sports such as the cow chip toss is out (thank heaven). Pro wrestling is an acquired taste and not for everybody. Not everyone loves to play the ponies, and RPS competitions sound incredibly boring and/or frustrating to watch and wager on.
Curling is a nice, relaxing experience and can make for a fun bet at the Olympic Games when the world is watching. But don’t forget Jai Alai. Even though Paxti is gone, and Americans never quite got used to the j, what other 100+ mph sport can you name that is played specifically for bettors? Visit a deluxe casino’s fronton whenever you’re in the vicinity, and pretend you’re on camera for Wide World of Sports in the 1960s.
Just make sure not to get tagged by that wicked-fast pelota.