Big Huni COVID-19 Morbidity Wager Makes Mainstream News2 months ago
An interesting prop bet offered on Twitter by elite poker pro Chris “Big Huni” Hunichen, connected to the expected deadliness of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, has flared up for a second time following amplifying of the prop offering by the United States’ Los Angeles Times, one of the country’s largest newspapers.
Hunichen, 35, triggered a controversy by offering this Tweet on April 4th:
The replies to the post, largely from his poker-world acquaintances and followers, were immediate. Many respondents thought Hunichen had crossed an unwritten line by offering a morbidity-related post, while others were fine with it.
Dan Shak, a veteran of the high-stakes scene, offered a typical response, and Hunichen’s reply to that response and to others reinforced the impression that “Big Huni” was perhaps just a little tone deaf into how his offer had been and was likely to be received:
Hunichen’s reference to “empiremaker” was about another high-stakes cash-game pro, Blake Stevenson (@EM2), who had made wagers on the same topic the previous week. Stevenson did, in this March 30th Tweet, offer to take the under on 50,000 US COVID-19 deaths:
Neither Stevenson nor Hunichen was close to the first poker pro or high-stakes sports bettor to offer action on the pandemic. Yet it was Hunichen’s Tweet, perhaps less than elegantly written, that drew more heat than the rest.
Not intended to root for mortality
Even with that, though, Hunichen soon recognized that his original Tweet may not have conveyed his intent. Hunichen expanded on the topic by stating that his offer was in large part to expose the “ignorant, selfish assholes” who were damaging the US’s largely nationwide lockdown by refusing to follow social distancing protocols:
Hunichen even posted, “I want to lose!” when accused of being too clinically morbid by betting on others to die. And in the wake of that wave, Hunichen soon modified the terms for a second, similar wager, stating that the winner of the prop bet had to donate the loser’s money to funds dedicated to pandemic relief.
Enter the LA Times, a week later
Over a week after Hunichen’s original prop-bet post, and roughly a full week after the furor had largely subsided, an LA Times reporter stumbled upon the Hunichen COVID-19 prop-bet threads. In a fairly obvious example of mainstream sensationalism, the Times writer chose to depict Hunichen and others involved as degenerate gamblers with little or no humanity.
“The stakes were clear,” wrote the Times’ Bill Shaikin. “More than 100,000 people die of the coronavirus, and Chris Hunichen makes money.“ Continuing the degen gambling theme, Shaikin added, “Responses were immediate and full of fury. As the coronavirus outbreak swept across America, who wants to bet on how many people the virus will kill?”
Shaikin also added a couple of the most heated responses to Hunichen’s initial post, while both ignoring many more moderate responses on both sides and that the entire matter had been debated, modified and resolved over a week before Shaikin’s own piece was published. Despite the headline’s claim that it’s about a poker player “raising awareness” about COVID-19, the story really doesn’t read that way.
It’s all the more mystifying because Shaikin conducted a phone lengthy interview with Hunichen himself, learning that Big Huni has some of the comorbidities cited by health experts. It means that Hunichen is at higher risk for serious illness if he contracts the disease. Shaikin also focused on the fact that at the time of writing, Hunichen had yet to fill his $10,000 wager cap on the second bet, with the losing side’s funds going toward relief efforts. It gave the writer another bit of ammo, perhaps, supporting the story’s underlying theme that many of these gamblers are willing to root for people to die, as long as they can make a few bucks from it. But actually helping people in need? That’s Shaikin’s sensationalist, anti-gambling angle.
Morbidity bets exist in many forms
That’s a sad take for Shaikin to have arrived at. It’s likely true that Big Huni’s prop offer, as Tweeted, likely crossed one of those invisible social-behavior lines. It’s also true that hardcore gamblers are willing to consider wagers on things a non-gambler might consider taboo. However, that’s a world away from what Shaikin infers, in that Hunichen or unnamed others are actively rooting for people to die just to make money.
There are so, so many wagers out there that include an unwritten morbidity factor that it’s hard to sort them out. For instance, I’ve written several times about the likelihood of cancellation for this summer’s World Series of Poker. I could have easily written these stories in prop-bet form instead of using more generic terms; I have believed since the last days of January that the 2020 WSOP will be cancelled or delayed, and that wager has been out there in many forms.
Inherent in my opinion and my writing on that topic was the implication that the COVID-19 would kill many more people than the early projections claimed. Whether or not I actually wagered on it is irrelevant; I wrote about it and I was paid for that writing, so I too have “profited” from a belief that has sadly turned out to be correct.
The thing is, bets such as Hunichen’s aren’t even close to being the darkest, most morbid wagers around. Virtually everyone reading this has been exposed to “dead pools” or “death pools”, in which participants draft a roster of famous people they think are likely to die soon, typically over the course of the next year. They’re morbid, and they’re easy to find.
And what about so-called “live longest” pools, in which a group of friends all put up some money which goes to the person who outlives all the others. These are exceptionally morbid, because you win by getting to watch all your friends die. And by the time you’ve won, you either don’t need the winnings or you’re too old to enjoy the money anyway.
So many non-sports wagers and prop bets include a morbidity factor that it’s impossible to keep count. Across the globe (but not legally within the US), it’s possible to wager on whether US President Donald Trump will complete his first term in office. With his first impeachment challenge already history, the entire wager -- where it can be found -- is almost entirely a mortality wager.
Hunichen’s prop bet about Covid-19 fits squarely within this continuum. Though it was roughly written and most people would find it tasteless, if nothing else, it’s really not that far from normal for a professional gambler. It’s certainly not worth an LA Times feature, except as sensationalist fare.
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