The United States reached one of its grimmest milestones on Wednesday with the news that the country’s death toll from the coronavirus pandemic has hit 100,000 people.
Even grimmer might be the resulting payout to a certain professional poker player.
Chris Hunichen, who told the Los Angeles Times’ Bill Shaikin that he has won more than $20 million from poker in his lifetime, had issued a challenge to Twitter a month and a half ago. He wanted to take the over on 100,000 deaths from COVID-19 in the U.S. by Sept. 1.
The replies were what you would expect: outrage, confusion and disgust.
Hunichen told the Times he found takers on the bet to reach $10,000. At the time, White House projections for U.S. deaths from the virus were well below six digits, but Hunichen felt he was seeing something others weren’t.
He has since announced his victory on both the $10,000 challenge and another $2,500 bet he made via Twitter in which the loser pays out while the winner donates the proceeds to the homeless. He reportedly saw less interest in the latter.
While a poker player making thousands off such a number of deaths sounds particularly dystopian, he claimed to the Times he went into it with a goal of raising awareness of the virus’ threat rather than the balance in his bank account.
He said he had noticed several acquaintances not taking the virus seriously by social distancing, and was afraid of his own death from the virus due to his asthma, a condition that makes COVID-19 — a lung infection — especially dangerous. By making the bet, he wanted the threat of the virus to become more real for others.
From the Times:
“Every day, I would see some kind of article where some 30-year-old or 35-year-old dies from this stuff,” Hunichen said in a telephone interview. “Honestly, I’m terrified. If I get it, I feel like that’s going to be me.”
Hunichen even pointed to a sports bettor sounding his interest on a bet with an over/under of 50,000 deaths by the end of the year, a much friendlier bet that had been posted a few days before his own bet. He said that profit was never the point:
“That wasn’t what I was trying to do here. I was trying to raise awareness. This is really a bad problem and, if people aren’t going to stay home and take it seriously, it’s only going to get worse.”
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