Most sportsbook sites now offer bets in what are known as novelty markets. Such sportsbooks are considered novelty betting sites.
These bets exist outside of the sports world and cover a huge range of games, entertainment events, and even celebrity gossip. You can bet on who will be the next Pope, for example. Novelty betting sites offer sportsbook-style wagers in these markets for a variety of reasons, mainly because people like betting on them, and the books can make money in the process.
This post covers the essentials of novelty bets and novelty betting markets – how to play them, how to think about them, and how to make them part of your larger sports betting strategy.
What Are Novelty Bets?
“Novelty betting” is a loosely-defined category of sportsbook bets that have nothing to do with sports. Sometimes called “entertainment bets,” these wagers (“novelty bets”) have to do with the outcomes of things like TV shows, elections, celebrity gossip, and other non-sports events.
Unlike traditional sportsbook bets, there’s no standard market for this sort of wager. Popularity and public interest drive these markets; a mega-popular reality TV show or singing contest will likely generate some novelty bets, but there’s no rigid schedule like you’d find in the NFL or college basketball.
The word novelty is used as a derogatory term for the most part. Bets on the Big Brother TV program or the Eurovision song contest are seen as cheap entertainment, with too much variance for serious bettors. I think that’s mostly true, though there are exceptions, situations where specialized knowledge or insight can help you beat the book.
Don’t forget that variance is huge in traditional sportsbook betting and that the people who look down on novelty bets on the Oscars likely line up every weekend hoping for a win rate near 50%.
How to Make Novelty Bets
Some good news – if you know how to place sportsbook bets, you already know how to make novelty wagers. Odds are posted in similar formats to sporting events. Even the user interface for this type of bet is identical to the one used to wager on NHL or MLB games.
Here’s an example of what a novelty bet listing might look like:
What will Joe Biden’s approval rating be on December 1st, 2022?
Under 43% -150
Over 43% +110
It works like a traditional money line wager.
In this example, Under 43% is the listed favorite, and you’ll get -150 odds. That means the book gives Biden’s approval rating about a 60% chance of being 42.9% or less on that date. You’ll have to drop a $150 wager to win $100 on that outcome. A winning bet on the over, meaning Biden’s approval rating is 43.1% or higher on the date-specific, pays out $110 for every $100 you bet.
Novelty bets are, for the most part, simple wagers with clear outcomes and limited options. Strategizing your way around them mainly means using what you already know, plus publicly available information, to set your own line. Then bet when you find a discrepancy between your estimate and what the book is offering.
For example, if my analysis of the next year of Biden’s political life indicates that he has a 75% chance of having a strong approval rating by December 1st, I should take the over at +110, since the book estimates his chances at about 47.62%.
Real-World Examples of Novelty Betting
Below are two real-world examples of novelty bets along with a little analysis. I’ve included this to show people interested in betting in novelty markets how to approach these bets with some strategy.
Who Will Bill Gates Date Next?
In the first example, we’ll see how doing some Googling and considering available odds can help us get some clarity into an otherwise unpredictable market.
I first saw this bet offered at BetOnline, but it’s spread to several other books now: “Who will Bill Gates date next?”
I got intrigued when I saw that the book’s top odds were going to two incredibly likely and downright ridiculous picks. Venture capitalist (and former Gates girlfriend) Ann Winblad is listed as +400, by far the top seed. This is more than a little crazy. Winblad was famously humiliated by Gates years ago. He married Melinda within weeks of breaking up with Winblad. I just don’t see these two making a reconnection after what must be years of buried hatchets.
BetOnline’s odds imply that there’s a 1 in 5 chance that Gates and Winblad start dating soon.
I say, “No way.”
The next best odds are for Gates to begin dating environmental activist Greta Thunberg. Thunberg is listed at +2500, which is the same as a 3.85% chance. Somehow, I don’t see 18-year-old Thunberg starting a romantic relationship with 66-year-old Gates, especially since the two have a fundamental disagreement on climate change and the environment. You may have heard that Thunberg is a little stubborn about the environment.
Okay, so this novelty bet borders on the silly.
But I think there’s some value to be found in the most likely place – close to (but not at the top of) the pack.
I say that because also listed at +2500 is the much more age-appropriate (and thrice-divorced) Shari Arison, Israel’s wealthiest woman. She and Gates are both billionaires, they’re about the same age, they’ve had a lot of the same life experiences, and I imagine they have a lot in common and plenty to talk about.
In this example, I’d take Arison at +2500 mostly because I think she has a much better chance than Thunberg, who’s getting the same line.
2022 Grammy Awards Album of the Year
Did the section above give you a kind of creepy feeling, like maybe we shouldn’t be talking about and betting on this stuff? That happens sometimes in the novelty betting market. Not everything is as cringe-y as betting on someone’s romantic life.
I like looking into the Album of the Year odds that came out every January. I’m a huge music fan and tend to follow the Grammys closely relative to my friends. In other words, I feel like I have a little bit of an edge against the betting public, especially in the big Album of the Year category.
By January of a given year, the books have narrowed down the AotY Grammy odds to ten records based on actual nominations from the Recording Academy. A pool of ten possible winners makes this an achievable novelty bet, especially if you understand the voting process and some trends among recent winners.
Here’s the top three Album of the Year nominees in terms of sportsbook odds:
Olivia Rodrigo’s Sour is getting the most love, at +150 to win it all.
Up next is the Lady Gaga/Tony Bennet duet Love for Sale at +275.
Rounding out the top three is Billie Eilish’s Happier Than Ever at +300.
The books are giving upstart Olivia Rodrigo a 40% chance of winning. Lady Gaga and Tony Bennet get a little more than a 26% chance. Oddsmakers give Billie Eilish a 25% chance of repeating as the Grammy’s biggest prizewinner.
Nobody has won back-to-back AotY awards since Stevie Wonder in the 70s. And Billie Eilish — for all her charm — is no Stevie Wonder. I like Gaga and Bennet’s chances. Their win would be an echo of the 2009 win for Raising Sand by Alison Krauss and Robert Plant.
Ultimately, consider the trends toward rewarding younger artists with the Album of the Year. Consider, too, the heavy favoritism shown by oddsmakers. I’d probably back Olivia Rodrigo if I were invested in betting in this novelty category this year. I’m older than Rodrigo’s target audience. And even I like her debut album, which has a lighthearted, playful artistic sensibility.
Novelty Betting Conclusion
Novelty bets shouldn’t be the bedrock of a sports bettor’s strategy. The books didn’t design them for that anyway. People enjoy betting on these markets, and sportsbooks have found a way to make it profitable, so the bets exist.
I sometimes analyze and play in these novelty markets. They’re palate cleansers, during the doldrums of the MLB regular season, for example. They keep me sharp, and I’ve won a little bit of money now and then along the way.
Don’t bet novelty markets to chase losses in other markets. Don’t bet on them expecting a win rate anywhere near profitability. Play them like slot machines between rounds of blackjack or poker. They’re a distraction for your mental health, not an emergency backup funds generator.