The Perfect Sweepstake

I love a special market. By that I mean anything you can bet on that isn’t regular sport. As even the government are smart enough to realise; gambling is a legitimate way to make a fun thing even more enjoyable.

An election is a typical example, but most of those don’t lend themselves all that well to betting. There are usually not that many participants, and even fewer with a chance of victory. Plus the visual action is dryer than a mouthful of plain crackers. Overall, it lacks aleatorial richness.

But, as I write here from breezy Liverpool, there is an event brewing with lots of runners and no obvious winner. There are also unisex hot pants and an uncountable plethora of sequins. That last observation doesn’t impact the gambling market, but it does contribute to the base level of fun.

Oh yes, Eurovision is in town.

I can’t think of many events that are as well-suited to a punt as Eurovision. In some ways it’s as rigged as professional wrestling, in other ways it’s as gloriously unpredictable as the World Cat Herding Championships.

I don’t have much data to fall back on for that assessment, but I know that Blue went into 2011 as the favourites and they came 11th. Thankfully I live in a world where you can forego proper research and instead make sweeping generalisations from the tribulations of a 90’s boy band.

In the Eurovision final there will be 24 entries, all of whom are sort-of in with a chance. That number nestles nicely into the Goldilocks ‘just right’ sweetspot for possible outcomes. Plenty of choice with scope for juicy odds.

Importantly, Eurovision also offers suspense. In my experience, the best gambling formats last long enough for an emotional rollercoaster. There has to be enough time for the possible outcome to swing in several directions, but not so much time that the swings are meaningless and negligible.

TV producers understand the importance of suspense for keeping people tuned in. The event is literally designed to maximise it. Points are drip-fed for an hour to give us an idea of who might win, and then at the very end a final mystery avalanche of points (the public vote) decides the winner.

All of that takes place over a single sparkly night of musical action. It’s the perfect duration.

So am I saying you should stick a pin in a map of Europe and get down the bookies? Absolutely not. A quick calculation of the current market (pre Thursday night’s semi final) shows they’re offering staggeringly poor value. For every £1 you bet with Bet365, they will get to keep (on average) 37p of it. Yuck.

As the blog title suggests, I have a better idea. A good ol’ fashioned sweepstake.

Usually I wouldn’t recommend them, because there’s no thought or skill involved. As I’ve written before, my favourite form of home-gambling is a Calcutta auction, but that inevitably gets out of hand and is better saved for professional degenerates.

That’s a poor fit here. First and foremost, Eurovision is a celebration of music and solidarity. Sam Ryder tells us that Eurovision is a festival, not a contest, and now I’m witnessing it first hand I’m inclined to agree. Any betting element should be a bonus bit of fun, not the raison d’etre. Therefore, keep it simple, stupid. A sweepstake is the way forward.

Stock up on alcopops, drape yourself in a foreign flag, then go around a friend’s house. Put the 24 qualifying countries in one glittery bucket and the names of the 24 participating players in another. Then draw them out one at a time like you’re doing the FA Cup draw at a discotheque. It’s all part of the fun.

Here’s my recommended prize structure:

£5 entry fee per country (totals a £120 prize pool)
£40 goes to the winner
£25 goes to 2nd place
£15 goes to 3rd place
£10 goes to 10th place
£10 goes to the bottom country (to be shared in the event of a tie)
£10 goes to the winner of the public vote
£10 goes to the country to whom Ukraine awards 12 points

That should keep pretty much everyone interested for most of the proceedings, and no greedy bookmaker get to see a penny. Just the way it should be. Enjoy and good luck!

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