Place Your Doomsday Bets

Nearly 450 years after the seer Nostradamus is said to have predicted Â"terror descending on the worldÂ" this month, the British -- never shy to place a bet -- are lining up to get a piece of the action, reports CBS News Correspondent Tom Rivers.

It was way back in 1555 that the French mystic predicted weÂ'd have a rough ride in the seventh month of 1999.

Graham Sharpe, from BritainÂ's William Hill bookmaking chain, thought he had seen it all. But because of the unique nature of the Â"end of worldÂ" wager, heÂ's letting the customers choose their own odds. Â"IÂ'm pretty confident that we wonÂ't have to pay out if theyÂ're correct,Â" says Sharpe.

Among the choose-your-own odds are a world war at 500-to-1 and aliens taking over the world at 5,000-to-1. The rank outsider is global mass suicide at 100 million-to-1.

CBS News Correspondent Tom Rivers
Sharpe acknowledges that most of the bets are done for a laugh. The tongue-in-cheek wagers are placed to obtain an Â"end of the worldÂ" betting slip to be framed for posterity. But, he adds, Â"Some are serious; their 26-page letters supporting their theories means theyÂ've thought about it long and hard.Â" In fact, Â"some will clearly be unhappy if the world doesnÂ't end.Â"

At least Matthew Dumbrell has figured out a way to have his cake and eat it too. If the world ends, the Londoner plans to collect on his one-million-to-one bet because as Sharpe says, Dumbrell Â"believes that even bookmakers will go to heaven and IÂ'm quite happy to meet them there!Â"

So, who knows? Sharpe could well become the manager of the first celestial betting shop.

But for now, the bookmaker remains philosophical. Â"As long as theyÂ're 18 years old and in possession of their faculties, itÂ's entirely up to them. We donÂ't force them to come to the betting shops and give us their money. But if they choose to do that, weÂ're not going to turn them away.Â"

Odds are, we havenÂ't seen the last bet yet.

Written by Tom Rivers
©1999, CBS Worldwide Inc., All Rights Reserved