Betting on hurricanes a new fad

Published 1:39 am Sunday, July 2, 2006

It’s a slow time of year for avid gamblers. The basketball and hockey playoffs are over. Football, even the preseason variety, is weeks away.

But gambling on whether Mother Nature will deliver another frenzied hurricane season has all the tantalizing unpredictability that many online betters can’t resist.

Along with bets on what day Britney Spears will give birth or whether the space shuttle Discovery will launch on time, experts say hurricanes are the newest betting trend in pop culture.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

Experts say the business is booming, with a few thousand people having placed their hurricane wagers with online casinos, which are based in foreign countries.

Traditional U.S. casinos do not offer hurricane bets, and the U.S. Justice Department argues that online gambling is illegal, but there is disagreement on that.

“Betting on baseball gets boring. You’re looking for a little action every now and then,” said Ken Moore, who plunked down $75 in hurricane bets. “Betting on the hurricanes, I couldn’t resist it.”

Moore, a graphic designer from Quincy, Mass., will make a profit of about $72.50 if exactly two Category 3 or higher hurricanes pummel the U.S. this season. He will make $5 if at least one hits. If none hit or three or more hit, he loses. Category 3 storms have winds of at least 111 mph.

But some victims of Hurricane Katrina and the seven other storms that walloped the U.S. over the past two seasons think the betting is somewhat tacky if not downright cruel.

Virginia Saussy Bairnsfather said her fellow New Orleans residents have developed a pretty good sense of humor since the Category 4 hurricane devastated the city, killing 1,577 people last year. It’s a sort of “if you don’t laugh, then you’ll cry mentality,” she said.

And while she isn’t appalled by the betting, but she would like the see the money better spent.

“I wished that everyone who placed a bet on where a hurricane is going to land, would take at least 10 percent of that money and do something to help victims,” said Bairnsfather, who lost the first floor of her home to 8-feet of Katrina’s floodwaters.

The hurricane bettors have several propositions when putting down their money. One is how many hurricanes will hit the United States?

Another is how many will hit Florida and what category will they be?

The safest bets offer 2.25 to 1 odds that at least two Category Three storms will hit the U.S, according to numbers from online casino when the odds closed June 1.

Residents in coastal areas, be forewarned, gamblers think the chances of six or more storms hitting the U.S. (5 to 1 odds) are more likely than no hurricanes hitting at all (6 to 1 odds).

“Hurricanes are a hot subject right now,” said Calvin Ayre, founder and CEO of online casino “Anything they have an interest in generally, they also like to bet on, if they’re gamblers.”