Posh Punts: The Rise Of Cultural Gambling

Forget your 6-team accy on a Saturday morning, the betting industry has its eye on a higher class of punter for the future...
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Yesterday in Northern Ireland, four British artists took their place as the nominees for this year’s Turner awards.

While Tino Sehgal might think his ground-breaking work This Variation –performed in pitch black - would see him a worthy winner, the smart money is on Lynette Yiadom-Boakye for her piece, Extract and Verses.

And when I say money, I do mean money, placed in wagers, through Bookmakers as part of a growing trend within the betting industry.

Using public buzz, industry knowledge and expert opinion, odds are calculated and a book compiled on what has become known as highbrow betting. For the record, Yiadom-Boakye is currently 6/4 with Paddy Power. The same Paddy Power who last year ran a book on the next Pope and hired US Basketball loon Dennis Rodman to promote it before flying him to North Korea to extend cultural relations with the world’s most reclusive nation.

So what’s fuelling this cultured pursuit of a fancy flutter? The bookmaker’s agenda is clear.

Whilst it is football rather than culture that is usurping Horse Racing as the bookies key revenue stream, the UK’s largest bookmaking firm Ladbrokes estimate that specialist betting, both high and low brow, is now worth £3m annually and is rising still.

Posh punt pioneers, William Hill, who also happen to be the official bookmakers for the Mercury Music Prize, decided years back to broaden their cultural horizons and offer their clients a wider range of betting opportunities. And they’re not alone, self-styled ‘Gentleman’s Bookie’, Bet Victor maintain a continuous politics book, thus opening doors to a new breed of punter.

The shiny new and accessible image put forward by the betting industry also deserves some credit for the enlightened betting boom. Gone are the days of seedy, smoke-imbibed betting shops.

Is highbrow betting simply an excuse for a flutter or a chance for arts enthusiasts to get their jollies and show off the cerebral prowess? Well, quite likely, a bit of both.

The industry has witnessed more than its fair share of crazy bets, such as when Londoner Matthew Dumbrell bet on the end of the world before the finish of the year 2000 at odds of 1,000,000,000/1.

Quite how Matthew planned on claiming his prize we don’t know but, let’s face it, if you’re willing to bet on humanity’s annihilation, then it won’t be beyond you to place a stake on the winner of an illustrious awards event.


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But, for the new breed, the inverted snobbery of the traditional Betting shop, and the shame of asking for a more refined wager before being embarrassingly laughed out of the room, can now be bypassed entirely by betting online and mobile.

A working man’s game, betting’s shift has seen it migrate to the web, seek out new opportunities and embrace the modern gambler with enthusiasm. This is to the point where on a typical Saturday William Hill’s customers post six million bets and the platform gets more activity than the Nasdaq. Even the toffs in parliament are getting involved.

As the industry opened itself up to new opportunities online, it would seem inevitable that the middle classes would take advantage and help drive the increase in cultured betting, although of course, specialist bets don’t have to be particularly intelligent.

The pursuit of new business has been ably aided by celebrities ever ready to endorse the bookmaker and his products. This has certainly fed into the rise of digital business, although it’s hard to imagine Ray Winstone’s square noggin invading our screens shortly before the winner of Nobel Prize is announced.

A quick glance at Paddy Power’s current offerings gives us the opportunity to bet on the eventual sale price of Snapchat, the year of Euro area deflation as well as providing some rather tidy specials on whether or not there will be a Female Cardinal any time soon.

Equally progressive for the betting industry is running a book on the PlayStation v Xbox war, set to commence with Sony the clear favourite, or whether the recently departed cartoon canine Brian Griffin will be resurrected in “life form” by the end of Family guy’s 13th season, currently 5/1 with William Hill.

Personally, I’m wondering whether or not Julian Assange will leave the Ecuadorian Embassy before the end of the year. You can get 12/1 at Paddy Power that he does and 66/1 that he sneaks out in a laundry van. Well worth a double surely.