The Strangest Bets Bookies Are Taking During the Pandemic

Not All Bets Are Off

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Not All Bets Are Off
Victor Decolongon / Staff / Getty Images Sport / Getty Images North America / Getty Images CC

Not All Bets Are Off

It's been a rough season for sports gambling. First COVID-19 came for the NBA — on March 11, the National Basketball Association announced it would postpone its season. The next day, the National Hockey League, Major League Soccer, and Major League Baseball all announced the same. Other major sporting events have been canceled or delayed all over the nation, events like the Kentucky Derby and Indianapolis 500. So, what's a nation that has increasingly embraced online sports betting to do? Get creative, of course. From sports that are normally ignored to reality TV competitions and other stranger-than-fiction fascinations, the online betting world — like much else in the coronavirus era — is morphing into something heretofore unthinkable.

Related: 15 Ways the Coronavirus Has Changed Americans' Daily Lives


Marble Racing

Watching marbles tumble toward the finish line was already a thing in late March, and then HBO talk show host and comedian John Oliver devoted a portion of his show to it in May, making it an even bigger thing. The phenomenon began on YouTube's Jelle's Marble Runs, founded by Dutch brothers Jelle and Dion Bakker, who sometimes model their contests after famous car races like the Formula One (named the Marbula One in the marble-racing world). Fans have been placing bets at sites like and Odds Shark.

Related: 30 Classic Backyard Games Due for a Comeback This Summer

Tiger King Movie Casting
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Tiger King Movie Casting

It seems that anything with a stratospheric entry into the cultural zeitgeist can make for betting fodder, and the Netflix documentary "Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness" is no exception. In April, BetOnline was taking odds on which actors would be cast as Joe, Carole, and the gang. It seems betting has since closed, but in early April, Kevin Bacon was the leader to portray Joe Exotic, while Wendi McLendon-Covey was the clear Carole Baskin favorite.

Space Travel
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Space Travel

According to MyBookie, there are nine choices in the running to be the "first organization to send humans to Mars?" If you've been reading the news lately, you probably know the odds-on favorite on this one.

Obligatory Trough Shot | Nathan's Hot-Dog-Eating-Contest-
Obligatory Trough Shot | Nathan's Hot-Dog-Eating-Contest- by Michael Tapp (None)

Hot Dog Eating

It seems no one's quite sure if what is possibly America's strangest "sport" — the annual Nathan's Hot Dog Eating Contest — will take place on July 4, but if it does, you can place wagers on it at a number of betting sites. And if you do, given its history, we have two words of advice for you: Joey Chestnut. He's no shoo-in, but he's the dollars-to-hot-dog-buns favorite, having won the competition all but one of the last 13 years.

The Scripps National Spelling Bee

According to, at least five betting platforms were offering odds on which champion orthographist would win this year's bee. Unfortunately, bettors' hopes were dashed when Scripps announced it could see no way to safely hold the competition this year, marking it the first time it had been canceled since World War II.

Video Game Consoles

Sports Simulations

With a lack of real-life sports taking place, people are betting on simulated games. Games are played via third-party software through platforms like Madden 20 games or Out of the Park Baseball. No humans are involved — it's CPU vs. CPU action using the latest rosters, stats, scores, historical data, and such. Are people actually betting on these? Absolutely. Simulated sports made up a handful of Bovada's top recent trending events, and even before COVID-19, sites like WhatIfSports existed to meet demand. As betting site Odds Shark recently wrote: "The concept of putting real money on simulated video games might seem ridiculous at first, but it can be a lot of fun to watch these games play out — especially with money on the line."

Test Video Games


Rather watch a bit of mano a mano action over dueling computers? Video-game sports competitions were a billion-dollar industry even before the pandemic, but the real-life sports hiatus has caused a "boom" in esports betting, according to Forbes. Bettors can place wagers on multi- or single-player teams competing in games like Call of Duty, League of Legends, CS:GO, Overwatch, Madden sports, and plenty more.

Related: 19 Fun Online Games the Whole Family Can Play

Pope Francis 2014

The Next Pope

If you've ever been certain that Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle of the Philippines would be the next pope, you might want to break out your wallet. He's the current odds-on favorite according to, the site with a tagline that unabashedly touts that users can, "Bet on Anything. Anywhere. Anytime." Indeed, there are other unusual bets happening on this site in the COVID-19 era that we'll get to here in a bit.

Betty White

Celebrity Deaths

Not all betting trends are fun and feel good. The anything-goes site MyBookie is taking bets on celebrity deaths, matching names like Betty White and Carol Burnett against each other and letting bettors wager on which one of those fine American treasures they think will die first.

The Next Top Chef (and Other Reality Competitions)
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The Next Top Chef (and Other Reality Competitions)

Fans and entertainment coverage sites aren't the only ones placing odds on who will win this season of Top Chef. Users of the site Reality Fantasy League can draft culinary favorites into their own "fantasy" teams, then invite friends to do the same. Participants win points and cred (not money) based on their chefs' performance. The Wall Street Journal reported in April that in 2020, according to a Reality Fantasy League spokesperson, there were "triple the number of users for this season of 'Top Chef' compared to last year."

Visit Mount Washington's Weather Station

The Weather

You know bookies and their clients are bored when folks start placing bets on the weather. For a time, Bovada was taking bets on the daily temps in different U.S. cities. It appears to have since stopped, but if betting on weather is the silver lining in your coronavirus cloud, don't despair. Sites like Weather Battle and BetOnWeather are still in on the rain-or-shine wagering action.

Joe Biden 2014


Politics and sports have long been compared and, with fewer professional sports to bet on, interest in political wagering has risen. A spring DraftKings pool drew tens of thousands of wagers on the Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders March 16 presidential debate, with gamblers betting on things like which candidate would be the first to mention words like "Hillary," "Russia," and "COVID-19." Bovada had a few politics-based betting events running recently, including who will be the next justice to leave the Supreme Court and who will be the Democratic vice-presidential candidate. Even non-U.S. politics are on the table: A recent Bovada pool was accepting wagers on who will replace Kim Jong Un as North Korea's supreme leader.

Professional Table Tennis
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Professional Table Tennis

The COVID-19 era has left sports and gambling fanatics interested in sports they might not otherwise have paid attention to a few months ago, and ping pong mania is on the rise — interest in table tennis recently ranked just under the Bundesliga on Bovada's trending events. Bettors are placing wagers on events in Russia, Ukraine, the Czech Republic, Korea, and other areas of the world. Forbes recently reported that betting site DraftKings' stock shares had risen due to interest in usually ignored sports like this one.

Korean Baseball
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Korean Baseball

You might not be able to watch Major League Baseball right now, but the KBO — Korean Baseball Organization — is a different story. ESPN is airing six regular-season, English-language broadcasts per week, mostly on its ESPN2 channel, and the Las Vegas Review-Journal recently reported that, among bettors, it's become second only to Russian table tennis is betting popularity.

The German Bundesliga
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The German Bundesliga

This might not be the first year Americans have bet on Germany's popular Bundesliga football league — soccer to the U.S. — but we're betting it's the first in history that the Bundesliga has been the top trending item on major betting sites like Bovada. Without NBA or NHL playoffs for MLB games to wager on, bettors turned to this 18-team soccer league's season. Other betting sites have seen traffic on soccer games in Turkey, Nicaragua, Tajikistan, and Belarus.

81st Academy Awards Ceremony
81st Academy Awards Ceremony by BDS2006 (CC BY-SA)

Entertainment Industry Developments

If you've laid in bed at night wondering, "In what DC Universe movie will Henry Cavill next appear?" then you should know you can place a wager on that on Also up for bets? Whether Billie Eilish will win Best Original Song at the 93rd Academy Awards, as well as who will be its host?

Kisensato vs Harumafuji
Kisensato vs Harumafuji by jpellgen (@1179_jp) (None)

Japanese Sumo Wrestling

The Las Vegas Review-Journal reported in March that betting and gaming company William Hill took more than 1,000 bets on the outcome of the Osaka-based SUMO Haru Basho 2020 professional sumo wrestling tournament.



If you know Nathan Aspinall from Gerwyn Price better than, say, Tom Brady from Patrick Mahomes, then dart betting might be for you. It might not have taken off in the U.S. like wagers on table tennis and Korean baseball have, but Forbes reports that bets on darts have seen big increases in the U.K., where it is considered a popular pub sport.

Real Housewives of New York
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Real Housewives of New York

Fans of the "Real Housewives" franchise were able to amp up the drama even more with this free-to-play pool that DraftKings advertised in early April. This contest makes 12 predictions — from "Will there be a scene in the Hamptons?" to "Will any housewives try or threaten to throw a drink?" — for season 12 of the show's New York version. There was no charge to play, but those with the most correct predictions had the opportunity to win $1,000.

Major U.S. Sports Leagues' Comeback
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Major U.S. Sports Leagues' Comeback

In mid-March, handicappers at 5Dimes set the odds for when games in the NBA, NHL, MLB, and MLS would go off hiatus. Though the outcome for each of these leagues is yet to be decided, it's worth noting that all of them have been making plans to continue or start their seasons, and none have yet canceled a season entirely.

Pedro Vilela / Stringer / Getty Images News / Getty Images South America


Many would consider taking bets on things COVID-19-related too macabre even for an industry that doesn't always have the best reputation, but there have been reports of non-U.S.-run sites accepting wagers on a number of topics related to the pandemic. The Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project noted in late March that Russian sites were taking bets on questions like whether the World Health Organization would announce a vaccine before the end of 2020, while Southeast Asian betting markets reportedly were taking wagers on the number of new cases announced daily in nations like Singapore, Malaysia, and elsewhere.