A Brief History of Dead Pools

1591: On March 21st, Pope Gregory XIV issues an edict, or Papal Bull, forbidding Catholics from placing bets on when he will die, not least because he is concerned that some less scrupulous types may try to assassinate him in order to claim their winnings. Anyone ignoring this edict is threatened with excommunication from the Church. He needn’t have bothered though: he died anyway just over 6 months later…
Gregory XIV…not a massive fan of dead pools

1743: White’s private gentlemen’s club in central 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”.

1865: 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.

1885: 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.
de Maupassant…more amused by death-related games than he looks

1934: 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 (pardon the pun!) 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 apiece – the price of a large suburban family home.

1988: Clint Eastwood appears in the fifth Dirty Harry movie, entitled The Dead Pool. The plot centres upon a game in which the participants each draw up a list of 10 famous people and bet money on how many of them will die in the near future. Eastwood, as Detective Inspector Harry Callahan, investigates the game and discovers that not only do the people on the lists keep dying in suspicious circumstances, but his own name is on there as well…

1996: Birth of the Derby Dead Pool, still going strong and now one of the longest-running dead pools on the Internet!

Do you feel slightly unwell, punk?