Gambling on pop culture winning bet?
If they're not playing the odds on the next American Idol or another Britney Spears' divorce, Internet gamblers may wager on the chances of bird flu reaching the United States or who officials will find first: Jimmy Hoffa or Osama Bin Laden.
"We call it pop culture gambling," said Christopher Bennett, a spokesman for BetUS.com. "This is quickly becoming the new office lottery pool."
Gambling is one of the oldest pastimes on the planet - dating back to rolling of knucklebones during prehistoric times and the "casting of lots" in biblical times.
But the Internet has made gambling so easy that people can bet on just about anything at the click of a mouse, from sports to pop culture to politics.
Lawmakers in Washington want to clamp down on online gambling, but industry experts say it's doubtful that even an act of Congress would be able to keep Americans from seeking out Lady Luck on the Internet.
"It's definitely popular," said David Schwartz, who runs the Center for Gaming Research at the University of Nevada at Las Vegas. "In general, commerce is moving online and gambling is part of that."
Sports - from football to auto racing to golf - remains one of the most popular subjects among Internet bettors. But gamblers are increasingly interested in wagering on current events and politics as well.
A few months ago, BetUS asked people to bet on whether the world would end on June 6, 2006 - the sixth day of the sixth month of the sixth year of this century.
Robin Edinger, 23, prefers to gamble on entertainment. Edinger, who works in sales, says she likes to keep it casual, placing $10 to $25 wagers at a time on the Web site for Sports Interaction.
Most recently, the Florida woman has put her money on ABC's "Grey's Anatomy" to win an Emmy Award for best drama.
"It'll be more fun to watch it because I'll have a stake in it," she said.
For those with an interest in politics, Internet sites offer odds on whether Democrats will regain control of Congress this November, who the 2008 presidential nominees will be and whether President Bush's approval ratings will dip below 30 percent.
"We have hundreds of thousands of issues, in addition to sports," says John Delaney, whose company runs Intrade.com and Tradesports.com.
Unlike other Internet gambling sites, Delaney's sites operate like mini stock exchanges, in which people can buy and trade contracts with other gamblers.
"Weather is one of our more popular and well-followed markets people trade," he said, noting that people are already busy speculating about the name of the last storm this hurricane season.
But it's not just fun and games, some experts say. Betting markets often can be just as accurate - if not more - as surveys and other mainstream tools in measuring public opinion.
"Obviously, people are putting their money where their mouth is," said Robin Hanson, an economics professor at George Mason University who has studied the gaming industry. "There's less social pressure to tell people what they want to hear."