Celebrity Death Pool – How to Play & How to Win

Celebrity Death Pool Betting

It’s a little bit morbid, it’s a little sardonic, it’s the Celebrity Death Pool.

An informal betting game based around picking the death dates of famous people, Celebrity Death Pool is the latest pop-culture incarnation of the long-lived dead pool. Bets made on predictions of death have long been a dark way for humans to deal with suffering and mortality.

You’ll find dead pools operating informally among staff in hospital wards, among the betting crowds at the Daytona 500, even in the online posts of TV and movie fandoms.

This post explains what this kind of pool is, how to play it, and strategies on how to win.

Celebrity Death Pool Rules

Here are five basic rules for your Celebrity Death Pool:

Rule #1 – You Can’t Cause a Celeb’s Death to Win

One set of rules I found at online sportsbooks says it this way – “Thou shalt not murder thy picks.” Going on, the rule forbids “harming, murdering, or in any manner affecting the general health or well-being” of any celebrity to earn points.

This seems silly:
But there’s a very real history of the involvement of so-called assassination pools and death pools in actual crimes, and most online or commercial death pools have to go out of their way to say this, to discourage participants from going way too far to win their game.

Rule #2 – Only Approved Celebrities Count

I found this definition for “celebrity” in Merriam-Webster’s – “a famous or celebrated person.” Pretty much any famous person counts.

Celebs may include sports figures, people from the film or music industry, TV stars, media figures, heads of state, persons of interest, even scientists and inventors. Generally, you can’t pick people who are locally famous or only well-known to a select group of people.

How will you know if a person you’ve picked “counts” as a celeb? This is a big part of the fun of most games – revealing your picks and having them vetoed or confirmed by the other players. Some games make use of the Notable Names Database or some other list of famous people to determine a pick’s includability.

In most games, only human celebrities count, so no famous animals.

Rule #3 – You Have to Pick xx Number of Celebs

This varies from game to game. Online Celebrity Death Pool games seem to love the number 20. The home games I play with family and friends tend to top out at 10. The more players, the great the variety of point totals, but the game also becomes more unwieldy, especially at point-tallying time.

Rule #4 – Duration Matters

Most games decide on a start and ending time. The game I play with my extended family starts on January 1st and ends on December 31st, a literal calendar year.

That’s why we have to get our picks in by New Year’s Eve.

You have to settle this rule with the people you’re playing with, otherwise, it can be chaos when it comes time to tally points.

Rule #5 – How to Score Celeb Deaths

The most basic scoring method is to deduct the celeb’s age from 100 – the number leftover is your base score for that death. Most games offer bonus points, in part to help settle the question of “what to do about people who die over the age of 100,” and in part to add interest to what can otherwise be a bit of a bore.

Other scoring systems exist, but basically, it works like this:
(100 – Age of Celeb at Death) + Bonus Points = Score per Celeb Death

Celebrity Death Pool Bonus Points

In my home games, the bonus points are where the competition is really at. If you want to pick celebrities of advanced age, you’ll suffer from the small point totals that come from their deaths. But if bonus points are in place, and you make strategic picks, a 102-year old death can turn from a -2 point play to a positive point total.

Here’s how.
Deaths with different circumstances lead to bonus point payouts. A good example is my family’s inclusion of a 19-point bonus for any celeb whose death is caused by COVID-19. Under this system, if a 102-year old former actor dies of coronavirus, the player who picked him would earn 17 points. That’s -2 points his age, but +19 points for the COVID bonus.

You can tailor the bonuses in your game to your group’s preferences. My family offers 100 bonus points for any celeb death on New Year’s Day or New Year’s Eve. Other common bonuses include 50 points for a celeb who dies on their birthday, 25 points for “first blood” (being the first picker with a verified celeb death), and 50 points for a solo pick, meaning the death of a celeb picked by one else in your game.

Please Note:
Including bonuses makes the game more interesting, increases the variance in points, and helps solve a potential scoring problem for celebs nearing or past the age of 100. Be sure to work out any bonus point systems ahead of time with the people in your game.

Betting on a Celebrity Death Pool

You can make the financial part of a death pool game as complicated or as simple as you’d like.

The easiest thing to do, if you want to wager on your pool, is to collect a buy-in from everyone then distribute that money to the winner. You could even offer a split purse, with 50% going to the winner, 30% going to second place, and 20% going to third place. It doesn’t matter how you distribute it, just work it out ahead of time so everyone knows what they’re playing for.

My family game has grown complicated over the years – we have 12 bonus point categories, and we hand out three rounds of prizes to 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place.

Here’s how it works:

Our game’s three important dates are April 30th, August 30th, and December 31st. Each of these is a payout date. We allow 10 players each year for a buy-in of $50.

On each of the first two payout dates, 25% of the total purse ($125) is paid out to the player in the lead. Only one player earns money in those first two rounds, making them just as competitive as the big year-end pay date.

The last payout date hands out the other 50% of the $500 purse, but it rewards the top three finishers instead of just one player. The person in the points lead wins 25% of the total purse, with the other 25% split between 2nd and 3rd place.

For example:
Last New Year’s Eve, my dad had the lead, having picked 5 deaths for a total of 58 points. He claimed 25% of the $500 purse ($125), while my mom earned 15% ($75) and my oldest brother got 10% ($50).

Since mom had claimed the first two payouts to herself, she technically won more money than dad overall – $325 against his $125. Still, he had bragging rights for being the overall winner.

Celebrity Death Pool Strategy

The most obvious strategy for building an unbeatable celeb death pool is to tailor your picks to your game’s bonus point system. My home game rewards COVID deaths, so it makes sense to pick celebs who, for whatever reason, are more exposed – for me, this means looking for at least one prominent middle-aged unvaccinated celeb so that I get a big point base from age and a 19-point boost from the COVID bonus.

Please Note:
Opinions are divided as to how to select in terms of pure age. Taking bonus points off the table, there’s a benefit to selecting a young celeb and a benefit to selecting an older one.

An American man’s average lifespan is 78 years and 9 months. Choosing a 79-year-old celeb seems to give you the maximum benefit in terms of points and likelihood of dying. Then again, that strategy limits you to a maximum of 21 points, bonuses not considered.

The death of a very young person would be lucrative in terms of base points, but a 20-year old healthy person has about a 0.1% chance of dying of any cause in any given year. At 60 years old, that chance jumps to 1.2%. That healthy 20-year old rapper you put on your list is about ten times less likely than someone in their 60s to die. At 90 years old, by the way, your celebs’ chances of dying in a given year are about 16.1%.

That 70-year chunk of points you’re giving away to list the name of an older celeb is worth about a 3200% increase in odds of winning overall.

Conclusion

Once you get past the “Oh, my” element of death pools, it’s easy to see why they’re popular among families and groups of friends.

These days, celebrity news and gossip have all but taken over.

If we’re going to read about, watch, and talk about famous people all the time, making side bets on the dates of their deaths is a natural extension of our weird obsession with their lives.

Please Note:
If you’re going to operate a death pool, be sure you’re clear about the rules and point system ahead of time. Have someone hold everyone’s entry or digitize them and post them for everyone to track and clarify your betting and payout arrangements so that all participants understand what’s at stake.

Using a little strategy, and with some measure of luck, you can have a year-long contest among friends for bragging rights, a little cash, and added conversation at the dinner table.

Rex Hoffman / Author

Rex Hoffman is a passionate sports writer, with over five years of experience covering sports journalism in line with the Vegas betting landscape. His favorite subjects include football, basketball, and baseball. As a Las Vegas resident, he enjoys finding an edge against the local sportsbooks and aims to share his extensive knowledge with both beginners and experienced bettors. Rex also dabbles in horse racing wagering and enjoys typical casino fare like blackjack and poker in his spare time.

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