|Here today, gone tomorrow, paid out the day after.|
On March 21st, Pope Gregory XIV issues a Papal Bull forbidding Catholics from placing bets on when he will die. Anyone ignoring the bull is threatened with excommunication.
White's private gentlemen's club in London opens a book for its members to record bets that they have entered into with each other. The very first entry is "between Lords Lincoln and Winchelsea, who wagered 150 guineas that the Duchess Dowager of Marlborough would not outlive the Duchess Dowager of Cleveland".
The American author, Mark Twain, in his short story Jim Smiley And His Jumping Frog, portrays his eponymous hero as an incorrigible gambler who will "bet on anything". When Smiley hears that the wife of his local parson is seriously ill but likely to pull through, he replies, "Well, I'll resk two-and-half she don't anyway". This is the first known literary reference to betting money on someone's death.
In his novel Bel-Ami, the French novelist Guy de Maupassant describes a game known as "Death and the Forty Old Men". The old men in question are the 40 members of the Académie Française, a committee formed of France's wisest and most learned people. The game, popular in Parisian society at that time, involved guessing which of them would die next and who would replace him.
An employee of a New York newspaper organises what may have been the world's first example of what we would now recognise as a dead pool. He writes the names of 100 famous people on individual slips of paper, places them into a hat, and persuades 100 of his colleagues to each draw a slip and throw $1 per week into a 'winner takes all' pot from then until one of the celebrities dies. Amazingly, the competition ends in a dead heat when two of the chosen celebs - aviation pioneer Wiley Post and comedian Will Rogers - both die in the same plane crash in Alaska in August 1935. The two winners receive about $3,500 each - the price of a large family home.
The death of Willie Whitelaw brought to an end the Flimby Dead Pool and the winner bagged over £800.