Place Your (Charity) Bets

by Casey Barrett

Gambling, for Good, on Olympic Sport…

Everything’s more exciting with a bit of action on the outcome. A gambler’s truism if there ever was one. Many might go with the glass half empty outlook: Nothing is exciting without some money on the line.

Wherever you fall on the compulsiveness meter, this is the one week of the year where you’re probably placing a bet of some sort. Super Bowl week: the time when even teetotaling Mormons know the spread. The time when hard core bettors go on a mad frothing bender… In Vegas alone, there will be an estimated $100 million wagered legally. A drop in the cash bucket compared to the estimates worldwide. If you count offshore Internet gambling sites, illegal bookies, and the countless ‘friendly’ bets made in every living room in America, some say over $10 billion is bet this week on the game of games, by over 200 million people across the world.

It’s a beautiful thing. Depending on how you view this fine vice… I love to gamble. Always have. Horses and poker, mainly, but having some cash on the line in any contest will always make it just that much more…

Unfortunately, wagering on our favorite sport of all has never been an option. (Officially that is…) Much as I’d love to see odds posted at the biggest meets, that doesn’t seem like an idea that’s going to entice the good folks at USA Swimming or the NCAA anytime soon. But just envision it for a second: 2-1 odds on Lochte beating Phelps in the 200 free. 50-1 odds on anyone beating Phelps in the 200 fly. How about a favorite / longshot Exacta in the men’s 50 free – Cesar Cielo and Anthony Ervin, anyone? How about being able to bet the Trifecta on any podium at the Games?

Obvious opportunity for corruption and scandal aside, the idea does have its upsides. Like legalizing marijuana in California or legalizing Internet gambling in all 50 states, opening up wagering on swimming could instantly cure many financial crises. Things like, say, all of men’s college swimming… Alas, few want to hear about vice coming to the rescue.

In the meantime, here’s a noble way to get your gambling fix on in Olympic sport. Take a look at Charity Bets. Do-gooding meets stock-picking, in sport… A way to gamble on your favorite athletes. And when you win, you give. Come again? Isn’t gambling about getting? Yes, well, time to test that old Christmas cliché – it’s better to give than to receive…

Here’s how it happened: A few sporty finance guys in New York were looking to raise money for cancer research around an athletic event. According to the site, their approach can be summed up with this simple premise: “I bet you can’t run this fast, or jump this high, or throw this far.” The essence of every challenge between competitors, with an emphasis on the bet. These guys decided to go a step further, set up a site, started contacting athletes, and a beautiful charitable mission was born.

And here’s how it works: Pick your athlete and issue your challenge. Pick your favorite charity. Place your bets. Athlete succeeds, you win, you pay up to your chosen worthy cause.

U.S. marathon champion Meb Keflezighi has been the early face of Charity Bets. By winning the U.S. Olympic marathon Trials in Houston last month, Keflezighi won his bets, and raised a boatload for the chosen charities. U.S. sprinters Walter Dix and Justin Gatlin are also on board.

So, the question is, why aren’t any swimmers on Charity Bets yet? Why aren’t the Olympic Swimming Trials listed on the site as events with open charitable wagering? Right now, there are plenty of options in running, biking, and triathlon. Where are the swimmers?

This is what swimmers do anyway. Last week, I heard Ryan Lochte and Conor Dwyer were talking trash at workout, challenging each other over who could do what in practice. Apparently Lochte tells Dwyer there’s no way you can stand up and go 3:48 in the 400 IM, right now. Dwyer takes the bait. Stands up and goes 3:42. In practice. Same time he went at NCAA’s last year… Impressing Ryan Lochte must have been nice. Seeing him have to pay up – to a worthy cause – would have been even sweeter.

I’m ready to place some bets. So, here’s a challenge to kick this off: Lochte, I’ve got $100 that says you can’t break your world record this year in the 200 IM. You pick the charity.

I would love to pay up.