A few years back the online gambling website Bookmaker.com was somewhat criticized for offering betting odds on hurricanes during what was an especially active tropical season. At the time Bookmaker.com argued that they had been offering odds on hurricanes long before Katrina and that none of the betting involved number of fatalities but rather the category of storm (1 through 5). They also argued that, unlike some natural disasters, hurricanes could be forecast well in advance with evacuations cutting down on casualties. And with 6/1 odds of a Category 3 or greater hurricane hitting the US in 2006, gamblers were wise to bet against such an event.
The Irish bookmaker Paddy Power has now come forward with odds offerings on which volcano will erupt first following the recent eruption of Mount Mayon in the Philippines. The payouts for each eruption increase as the odds get greater.
This unorthodox betting opportunity was fuelled by numerous requests from punters, Paddy Power is quick to point out.
The favorite volcano to erupt first is Japan's Mount Unzen. But herein lies the problem.
In 1792, the collapse of one of its several lava domes triggered a tsunami that killed about 15,000 people in Japan's worst-ever volcanic-related disaster.
"There are no active volcanoes in Ireland so it is easy to be a little less sensitive about this type of natural disaster," said Payton O'Brien, Senior Editor of the Gambling911.com website, which was instrumental in promoting the 2005 hurricane betting odds offered by Bookmaker.com. "We would never have allowed promotion of hurricane odds that specifically target a specific region such as New Orleans. That would be in bad taste."
Offering odds of 3/1 on a volcano blowing its top in one of the world's most densely populated countries realizing the catastrophic devastation likely to result is bound to leave a bad taste in some people's mouths.
Mount Merapi in Indonesia was listed with 10/1 odds. It is very close to the city of Yogyakarta, and thousands of people live on the flanks of the volcano, with villages as high as 1700 m above sea level.
"So many of the odds offered on volcanoes are for those located in third world countries with large population centers," argues O'Brien.
But Paddy Power would consider O'Brien's line of thinking "prudish". So what if a few hundred thousand people stand to lose their lives should Mount Merapi erupt.
"It's amazing what punters will bet on and this particular betting market had our odds compilers literally outside their comfort zone," the company said. "Suffice to say it's a lot easier to figure out the odds on a football match than on a volcano erupting, but definitely not as much fun!"
Paddy Power came under heavy fire earlier in the year for offering betting odds on President Obama's assassination.
Jagajeet Chiba, Gambling911.com