A Hunch that Paid Off

odds dice gambling

In 1989 an anonymous man from Wales placed a £30 bet at Ladbrokes, a London gambling establishment. The terms of the bet? The Welshman wagered that as of January 1, 2000:

  • The band U2 would still be together and active;
  • British entertainer Cliff Richard would receive a knighthood;
  • The soap opera Eastenders would still be shown on BBC as a weekly program; and
  • Australian soap operas Neighbours and Home and Away would still be appearing on British television.

The likelihood of these events happening earned this man the formidable odds of 6,479 to 1.

For the next decade few people gave the matter much thought at all, until January 2000, when the man showed up with his wager ticket to collect his earnings: £194,400 ($279,871).

It is the largest payout to date on a novelty bet.

For other interesting wagers, check out our Gambling and Wagers category.

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Return of the King? What are the Odds?

elvis wager horse odds wimbledon betting
Elvis Presley (left) and the horse Shergar (right)
Ian MacMillan was counting on the return of the King — the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll, that is.

In 2002 MacMillan, an unemployed resident of Great Britain, placed a wager of five pence (7¢ in US currency) in favor of Elvis Presley riding into town on a horse named Shergar for a tennis match with Lord Lucan at Wimbeldon.

MacMillan was undeterred by the one or two obstacles that might get in the way of things turning out in his favor:

  • Elvis Presley died in 1977
  • Shergar, an Irish racehorse, was stolen in 1983 and hasn’t been seen since
  • Lord Lucan, an English peer and murder suspect, disappeared in 1974 and is still misssing

All things considered, bookmakers William Hill decided the odds of such an event transpiring at 20,000,000 to 1. MacMillan planned on placing £10 on the bet, which would have earned him £200,000,000 ($288,013,000). The bookmakers’ underwriters were concerned about having such a potential liability on the books, so they limited MacMillan’s wager to a maximum of five pence. Still, if MacMillan’s instincts prove to be reliable, it would generate £1,000,000 ($1,440,065).

Hope springs eternal, even among Britain’s unemployed. MacMillan told The Sun in an interview, “I’m looking forward to collecting my winnings.”

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A Pretty Good Indication of a Gambling Problem

Harry Kakavas, standing in front of Crown Casino

Some of us who break out in a rash at the thought of losing a quarter in a faulty vending machine may have difficulty empathizing with Australian businessman Harry Kakavas. He didn’t just lose some pocket change … He lost a LOT of money, and he kept on losing a LOT of money in extravagant gambling binges at the Crown Casino.

Admittedly a gambling addict, Kakavas had already been banned from the Star Casino of Sydney after losing millions of dollars. Much of the millions he borrowed from friends and family. Not finding that enough, he stole $286,000 and served a brief time in jail.

This was not enough to deter him from his habit, however, so Kakavas found his way to the Crown.

During one five and a half hour period in May 2006, Kakavas lost $164 million. That was just the tip of the iceberg. Between June 2005 and August 2006, Kakavas lost the princely sum of $1.479 billion (yes, that’s BILLION), mostly while playing the game baccarat.

Kakavas, naturally, did what any responsible person would do under the circumstances: he blamed the casino for taking his money. Filing a lawsuit against Crown, Kakavas claimed Crown took advantage of his addiction by luring him into its casino by offering him incentives, such as the use of its private jet.

In 2013 the High Court of Australia unanimously ruled that Kakavas, not the casino, was responsible for the gambler’s plight.

Anyone care to place a bet on whether Mr. Kakavas has learned his lesson?

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Dishonesty Doesn’t Pay

Horatio Bottomley (1860-1933)
Horatio Bottomley (1860-1933)

British Member of Parliament Horatio Bottomley made a lot of money through fraud. He also lost a lot of money the same way.

In a classic case of karma, in 1914 Bottomley bought all the horses that would run a race. He paid the jockeys to finish in a certain order and bet large sums of money on what seemed to be a sure thing. Unfortunately for Bottomley, a dense fog rolled in right at the time of the race, and the jockeys were unable to see each other’s positions. Bottomley lost all the money he had put up for the race.

One of Bottomley’s favorite ways to make money was to create sweepstakes competitions, giving away large sums of money for prizes. Upon investigation it was revealed that the winners of the sweepstakes all seemed to have a close relationship to Bottomley or one of his associates. In one typical example, all but £250 of a £25,000 prize made it into a bank account controlled by Bottomley, himself.

Bottomley ultimately was convicted of fraud and sentenced to prison. He died impoverished.

A Dubious Honor

John Heidegger (1666-1749)
John Heidegger (1666-1749)

John Heidegger rose to fame in Switzerland and later in England as a promoter of masquerade balls. It should be no surprise that Heidegger was drawn to a profession that depended on masks and disguises. Heidegger, by his own admission, was the ugliest person in the country. Called “Count Ugly” by some and described by one woman as “the most ugly man that ever was formed,” Heidegger did not seem to be insulted; rather, he reveled in the attention.

When from Lord Chesterfield wagered he could find someone uglier than Heidegger, Count Ugly eagerly accepted the bet. On the day Chesterfield was to produce his specimen of hideousness, he paraded a woman from the slums of London whose repulsive appearance was certain to give Heidegger a run for his money.

Ironically, it was the unfortunately woman who decided the issue. Heidegger snatched the woman’s hat off of her head and placed it on his own. As the woman looked at the truly-grotesque sight of John Heidegger wearing a woman’s hat, she fainted, leaving Heidegger the undisputed ugliest person in England.

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Around the World with a Baby Carriage

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The Earl of Lonsdale accepted a bet from his friend John Pierpoint Morgan that no man could circumnavigate the globe, on foot, without being recognized.

The wager didn’t end there. By 1908, further conditions stipulated that the individual would only be permitted one change of pants, should wear a metal helmet, and had to push a baby carriage throughout his globe-trotting voyage. Undaunted, local showman Harry Bernsley took on the bet for a cool £21,000 prize. In order to collect the cash, he would also have to find a wife along the way, sell postcards of himself while wearing a suit of armor, and go the entire journey without being recognized once.

Sadly, despite claiming to have made it through Ireland, Canada, America, Japan, China, India, Turkey, and Italy over the course of a six-year trek, the outbreak of World War I prevented Bernsley from completing his wager. All the same, Morgan and Lonsdale were impressed enough to award him £4,000 for his efforts.

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An Odd Bit of Odds

Queen Elizabeth II
Queen Elizabeth II

In 2011 European bookies were putting the odds of Queen Elizabeth II abdicating and replacing Bruce Forsyth as the host of the popular BBC dance competition Strictly Come Dancing at 50,000 to 1. source

To put that in context consider the odds of the following:

  • Being struck by lightning in one’s lifetime: 1 in 12,000 source
  • Dying in a plane crash: 1 in 7,178 source
  • Dying in a car crash: 1 in 5,000 source
  • Being elected President of the United States: 1 in 10 million source
  • Being killed by a shark: 1 in 3,748,067 source
  • A well-shuffled deck of cards returning to the same order twice: 1 in 80,658,175,170,943,878,571,660,636,856,403,766,975,289,505,440,883,277,824,000,000,000,000 source