It was Mussolini who famously claimed to have made the trains run on time. Had “Il Duce” actually achieved that and been around in 2012 to run Victoria’s Metro train system, he may have been able to make a bit of cash on the side.

In a new twist on the rising popularity of novelty gambling, online betting company has started taking wagers on Melbourne’s trains meeting punctuality and service requirements. Punters can get odds of $1.35 for 88% of Metro’s services hitting deadlines in June, the target the company must reach to be considered on time. A similar market is operating for Sydney’s CityRail service, which is subject to similar public angst over tardiness and service.

Gambling researchers are concerned the move continues the normalisation of gambling, while Sportsbet says it’s all a bit of fun for its members. What is clear is that its another clever marketing ploy by a company that has become renowned for it.

Both News Limited and Fairfax picked up Sportsbet’s press release, with the Herald Sun using the same headline “Your train running late? You can bet on it“.

“Of course the bookie will be hoping the media picks it up and gets people like me to respond in an outraged sort of way,” noted Monash University gambling academic Charles Livingstone told Crikey.

“My concern with it is that this intrusion of commercial gambling into everyday life represents a training program for bookmakers’ clients and potential clients. It’s a sort of gambling frenzy familiarisation program. In the world of commercial gambling operators, you can never escape the possibility of a gamble.”

It’s not the first time novelty gambling has caused a stir. Train betting is just one of many “current affairs” wagers currently being offered by Sportsbet, a local trendsetter in punting on events other than sports and racing.

As well as the now-standard election betting (also offered by most other online bookies), Sportsbet’s clients can bet on which country will leave the eurozone first, what Facebook’s share price will be by the end of the year and whether deoderant company Lynx’s “clean your balls” ads will be banned by the Advertising Standards Buereau.

It doesn’t stop there. There’s also a market for the names of Mick Molloy’s expected twins (Richo and Jack are early favourites), the colour of the Queen’s hat at the London Olympics opening ceremony (orange/peach) and something called a “Stefanovic special” devoted to which network the Nine personality will end up at next year.

Reality television offers a slew of options for a flutter, with books currently open on the winners of talent quests such as Masterchef, Dancing With The Stars and Australia’s Got Talent. Fans can even have a crack at who will end up the next host of Nine’s The Voice, with Rolf Harris offering up juicy odds of $101 to take over from incumbent Darren McMullen.

But while Sportsbet is the only major local online bookie with a focus on these kind of bets, they aren’t the first internationally. That legacy can be tracked back to Sportsbet’s Irish parent company Paddy Power, a specialist in the media-friendly novelty bet. It’s been a transparent strategy by Paddy Power to increase its market share and attract punters.

Sportsbet spokesperson Shaun Anderson told Crikey this morning that topical bets are usually small and popular with the site’s members. “We monitor activity on novelty markets very closely to ensure the integrity of these markets is not compromised,” he added.

Sally Gainsbury, an online gambling researcher at Southern Cross University, says novelty bets are a way of generating “water cooler talk” and word-of-mouth marketing.

“As online betting is legal in Australia this is one way to attract customers and keep betting entertaining,” Gainsbury told Crikey. “[However] caution is required to ensure that these novelty bets remain ‘just for fun’ and they are not inappropriate and particularly not overly attractive to children or adolescents.”

Metro did not respond to requests for comment by deadline.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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