The Wagers of War


A new Web site aims to let grassroots peaceniks place their bets in the ultimate “dead pool”: at they can lay down five dollar wagers on when—to the minute—the new Iraq War will start. The winner walks away with 20 percent of the kitty in the form of prepaid gasoline cards, while the rest will go to humanitarian aid in the war’s aftermath.

Though the game drips with satire, its organizers argue that it’s also practical. “There’s not a heck of a lot that we can do about [the war]. However, we can do something to help the thousands of civilian casualties—most of whom will be children and infants—that any war will certainly produce,” argues Tad Hirsch, who created the site along with fellow MIT Media Lab graduate student Ryan McKinley and the activist group Boston Mobilization. admits in a press release that participants will “have a little fun in the process.” To critics who’d argue that there’s something tasteless about the exercise, Hirsch notes that the entertainment industry is already profiting from wars real and imagined. Financial journals also read like bookies’ sheets meant to assist Wall Street muck-a-mucks bet on the prospect of war as they trade stocks, barrels of oil, and currency shelters like gold. As for’s would-be soothsayers, predictions for when the CNN war theme music will start blaring range from “late February through mid-August, with heavy clustering in March,” Hirsch wrote in an e-mail interview. If by some chance war doesn’t erupt, bets can be refunded or sent to other causes, Hirsch says.

The site, which opened Tuesday and has already received 10,000 hits, faces a few hurdles. While players can join with a check or credit card through PayPal, so far only Massachusetts residents qualify to win. “In order for additional states to join the contest, we need to partner with local nonprofits to secure permits from state authorities,” Hirsch explains. “This process can take as little as a few days—less if the nonprofit already has the necessary permits.”

Finding nonprofits to benefit might prove challenging. The International Red Cross, the International Red Crescent, and Save the Children might be “obvious groups,” Hirsch says, but “we want to see where our money can do the most good once the blood starts to flow.”

An American Red Cross development official told the Voice that the organization might be wary of publicly associating itself with a gambling Web site, but could accept a donation privately from the founders of after the fact. Other partners could be even tougher sells. “We’re also soliciting donations from the big oil companies who might be interested in donating to the project,” Hirsch says.

This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on March 4, 2003

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