With U.S. troops poised for an attack, President Bush has declared that for Iraq and Saddam Hussein, "The game is over."
The gaming continues — online, at least.
Think you know when Saddam will be booted from office?
… You can put your money where your mouth is at Dublin, Ireland-based Tradesports.com.
Convinced Saddam will be dead by June 30? Missing? "Smoking Cubans with buddy boy [Moammar Gadhafi]?"
… You can place your bets at Costa Rica-based BetonSports.com — though some critics question the tastefulness of such bets.
Mother Teresa and Michael Jackson’s Nose
BetonSports.com — which spokesman Eddie King boasts represents "the visionaries of this business" of betting on everything from who will win Survivor to which rock stars will overdose this year — places odds of 3 to 2 Saddam will be dead by June 30, and 2 to 1 he'll be in exile or in U.S. custody.
Bettors also can wager on the timing of a U.S. attack.
Fans of longer odds might want to take the 5 to 1 action on the Gadhafi proposition, or 150 to 1 odds that he'll "travel to Calcutta and take up Mother Teresa's torch," "join the Backstreet Boys and tour with Elton John," or be seized by violent aliens who will claim him as a citizen of their planet.
"We've had a couple of people take the long shots," King said.
Those who scoff at such risky bets should know BetonSports.com is investigating whether a Vanity Fair article reporting that Michael Jackson wears a prosthetic nose is grounds for paying out to people who bet the singer's nose would fall off.
"We stand to pay out probably close to $15,000 on that, if it shows that Michael Jackson's nose really did fall off," King said.
King said this week that BetonSports.com had taken 8,000 to 10,000 bets for about $750,000 on Saddam and war prospects over the approximately three weeks questions have been posted on its site.
Tradesports.com, on the other hand, has taken more than 62,000 "trades" on Saddam's future as president since it began listing the propositions Sept. 24.
As of 10 a.m. ET today, the site's "traders" placed 35 percent odds Saddam would be gone as president of Iraq by the end of the month, 74 percent odds he would be deposed by the end of April, 81 percent odds he would be gone by the end of May, and 87 percent by the end of June. John Delaney, the site's CEO, said traders in the United States seemed more inclined to think Saddam would be gone sooner than traders elsewhere.
Tradesports.com considers itself a broker rather than a bookmaker, because rather than placing odds on propositions and taking bets, it lets subscribers set market prices and wager against each other, and then takes a commission.
Because of that, the odds of Saddam remaining in power at the end of each month fluctuate with news reports like the stock market does.
"They have been incredibly volatile," Delaney said. "As each new piece of information comes out … the odds and the futures change dramatically and quickly."
For instance, the odds moved "a full 11 percent" after Secretary of State Colin Powell's Feb. 5 speech to the United Nations, and then softened by around 7 percent after France, Germany and Belgium came out in favor of continued inspections, Delaney said. With war talk in the air, the odds have risen sharply in recent days, as well.
As of this morning, the going rate was $35 for shares that would earn $100 if Saddam was no longer president by the end of March (or nothing if he still held office) — equivalent to giving Saddam a 35 percent chance of being removed, or, put another way, slightly less than 2 to 1 odds.
By contrast, the rate had been just $25 Wednesday afternoon.
Bookmakers: Even We Have Standards
But not everyone is taking bets or wagers on the possibility of a war to evict Saddam.
"Even bookmakers have their own opinion on what represents good and bad taste," said Graham Sharpe, media relations director for the the British-based bookmaker William Hill — which in 1969 had to pay out hundreds of thousands of dollars when men landed on the moon before the end of the 1960s.
Like several large British bookmakers, William Hill now is taking bets on things like elections and the Oscars, but not on Iraq.
"We don't mind betting on people dying in soap operas," Sharpe said of William Hill's policies. "'Who shot J.R.?' was a big business for us. … But that's not real, despite what some people might think. You're talking about real bullets and real bodies in situations like [Iraq], and we just don't feel comfortable speculating on events of that nature."
Such gambling is illegal in Nevada, and apparently in other states. And the Iraq betting opportunities are not exactly omnipresent on the Internet, either.
"We just don't feel it's tasteful if someone bets on or against war," said Rob Gillespie, president of the Costa Rica-based bookmaker BoDog.com. "We think we'd rather handle stuff that, win or lose, it's fun for everybody to enjoy the result."
Post-Sept. 11 Rules?
But according to Kevin Smith, a researcher for the River City Group, a Missouri publishing and consulting company that caters to the online gaming industry, some bookmakers seemed to start taking bets on American military action for the first time after Sept. 11, 2001, when various propositions asked when and where Osama bin Laden would be caught.
I. Nelson Rose, a gambling historian and law professor at Whittier Law School in California, said bets on things like the Oscars and Iraq generally are not big moneymakers for bookmakers.
"They're doing it more just to get the attention," he said. "The greatest expense right now for being an Internet gambling operator is actually getting new customers."
King said his site's Saddam and Iraq propositions are just the type of things the public wants a chance to bet on.
"We're not hoping for war," King said. "We're not hoping for people to die. But at the end of the day, these are things people ask each other in the street."