When Rihanna sings about finding "love in a hopeless place" in her hit "We Found Love" with DJ Calvin Harris, she probably isn't referring to a betting agency. But in recent weeks, Irish bookmaker Paddy Power released a proposition list of the pop star's potential new beaus, with former flame/domestic abuser Chris Brown leading the odds.
"HE RI RI LIKES HER -- BROWN FAVOURITE TO WOO RIHANNA," reads the artfully crafted headline of the press release. The bet comes on the heels of Brown's controversial Grammy Awards appearance, as well as two recently leaked remix collaborations between the pair.
Bad taste? Sure. The bet is a blatant attempt at capitalizing on people's personal lives. But that must resonate with someone because, as it turns out, the practice of betting on celebrities and other components of pop culture isn't anything new. In fact, its roots trace back to Wynn Director of Race and Sports Johnny Avello, who began setting novelty bets for publications like US Weekly and Rolling Stone in 2000 with the rising popularity of reality TV.
"People like to the see odds set on who's the favorite to win, it's fun, it has entertainment value," Avello says, noting that odds on awards shows, band reunions and competition shows like "Dancing With the Stars" are especially popular.
But entertainment value is all they hold -- at least in Nevada. Avello says that the Gaming Control Board is not especially keen on sanctioning novelty propositions, as defining the parameters and outcomes is much more slippery and subjective than traditional sports bets.
"What constitutes getting together? For how long? There's a lot to overcome. You'd have to list so many variables beneath the prop as disclaimers," he explains.
That's why, thanks to strict regulations, you'll never see a Nevada-based sports book set props on celebrity couples. But ethics also are a factor. Avello says that other local sports book operators and he are wary to set odds on celebrities' personal lives simply because it's a sensitive subject.
"If it's a prop like how long someone's marriage will last, I really don't want to touch it, because that person could be a customer of Las Vegas. I don't want to offend someone, especially someone I might run into in person one day," he says.
Across the Atlantic, however, such hot-button propositions are not only fair game, but good publicity. Tapping into media buzz -- like the recent Rihanna/Brown controversy -- draws attention to the sports book. The bets themselves are actually pretty low stakes and yield little profit for the company.
"There's really no money in it," Avello says.
Feilim Mac An Iomaire, a marketing executive at Paddy Power, says their bettors do get fairly serious about novelty events like the U.K. general elections and awards shows like Eurovision, but that "the celeb romance markets are usually lower key." In fact, novelty markets contribute to less than 1 percent of what the agency brings in; however, with artists like Rihanna, recent headlines do bring a spike in the number of bets placed. Mac An Iomaire says Paddy Power deals with the issue of subjective parameters simply by attaching conditions to each proposition that clarify how it must be fulfilled.
"It might require a public confirmation and might have a time limit after which all bets may be made void and stakes refunded," he explains. The time line for the Rihanna bet, for example, ends May 31.
As for the question of ethics, Paddy Power is no stranger to offering controversial bets. Past propositions have included odds on the first species to be driven to extinction by the BP oil spill and odds on President Obama getting assassinated. So it's easy to chalk up the bet on Rihanna and Brown as run-of-the-mill bad taste and exploitation.
But perhaps the pair welcomes it. After all, what Rihanna and Brown are doing isn't really all that different from Paddy Power's button-pushing publicity strategy. One could argue that they weren't trying to be provocative, that their collaborations were born from sheer artistic impulse and desire, and that the remixes really were "leaked," but I'm willing to bet (if you'll excuse the pun) that they knew exactly what they were doing.
By recording the new amorous collaborations (notably, the leave-nothing-to-the-imagination, contrived sexy time of "Birthday Cake") and consequently working fans and the media into a frenzy, the duo is simply capitalizing on the controversy that perennially surrounds them. And now they can cash in on the headlines and increased airplay. Who knows if they've found love. But it's safe to say that pop culture, with them, is in one heck of a hopeless place.
Follow Andrea Domanick on Twitter at @AndreaDomanick and fan her on Facebook at Facebook.com/AndreaDomanick.
(c) 2012 the Las Vegas Sun (Las Vegas, Nev.)
Visit the Las Vegas Sun (Las Vegas, Nev.) at www.lasvegassun.com
Distributed by MCT Information Services
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