The 2017 World Series of Poker begins in just over ten days, but there currently is little talk about preparations for the biggest event in poker. Instead, much of the poker community is talking about the ludicrous prop bet between tournament director Matt Savage and poker professional Mike Noori, which will begin today at noon. That prop bet? That Noori can eat $1000 worth of McDonald’s food in a 36-hour period. To be honest, why are we even talking about this?
Prop bets have always been something that gamblers employ. In the past, these prop bets were just another way to say “con,” especially in the hands of a legend like “Titanic” Thompson or another of his ilk. It wasn’t unheard of for Thompson to arrange his prop bets with a “mark” and then (either before the bet or shortly thereafter) do something to shift the results in his favor. Stories abound about Thompson making prop bets that a sign along the road stating the mileage to whatever city was wrong then, after booking prop bets with whoever was gullible enough to put up their money, go out to the sign and move it before the he and the bettors measured the distance. Poker Hall of Famer “Amarillo Slim” Preston would do similar things with his prop betting. He once bet he could beat a horse in a 100-yard dash. The trick? He would put turns in the course, slowing the horse down tremendously while he was able to go at full speed.
In recent times, however, the prop bets have gotten a bit more serious and a bit more dangerous. Of notable interest of late was Antonio Esfandiari’s “lunge” bet with Bill Perkins in 2016 at the PokerStars Caribbean Adventure. For 48 hours, Esfandiari had to “lunge” – put a leg forward and bend the knee to 90 degrees, with the opposite leg’s knee touching the ground – instead of walk. After completing the exercise 48 hours later, Esfandiari was in extreme pain but at least $50,000 richer. (This was also the impetus for “Urinegate,” but let’s not get into that.)
The Noori/Savage bet is one that could fall under the dangerous category. Noori, in 36 hours, must chow down on $1000 of McDonald’s menu items, with a few caveats set in place. He could spend only $200 on salads and he could not take off any pieces that come with a menu item (among others). If he can complete this task, Noori stands to win six figures in prop bets from Savage and many others.
There are a few reasons why the poker community shouldn’t be embracing this type of betting. There’s the real danger that Noori puts his health at risk by such gorging. Sure, competitors in the Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest in Atlantic City every Fourth of July embrace their gluttony by chowing down on frankfurters, but unbelievably those men (and women) train for that activity. Noori isn’t exactly a trained professional in the world of competitive eating, making it a potentially dangerous activity even over an extended period.
Then there’s the optics of the endeavor. In the United States alone, it is estimated that 42.2 million people live in “food insecure” households, meaning they are unable to access a sufficient quantity of affordable, nutritious food. Although McDonald’s isn’t by any definition “nutritious” food, it’s way better than nothing at all. (Noori is encouraging people to contribute to a charitable drive through a GoFundMe account by his friend Phong “Turbo” Nguyen to raise money for families in Vietnam, in a manner drawing attention to Nguyen’s cause through the prop bet.)
There’s nothing wrong with having some fun and betting on silly things. But they should be things that, upon review, don’t paint our community in a good light. A food bet like this isn’t going to end the world, but it is something that isn’t exactly going to be embraced by the “squares” who we would like to encourage to come to the tables (and give us their money). I’d almost rather see the classic Thompson prop bet of hitting a golf drive 500 yards – then waiting until he found an icy lake to hit the drive on – than something that is a bit mindless and potentially dangerous.
If you want, engorge yourself on the Noori/Savage prop bet over the next couple of days…I’ll pass. But remember that, by continuing to promote such activities, it only pushes the bar further next time.