Betting on the End of the World in Los Angeles

If you are certain the world is going to end or the rapture is coming very soon, if you’ve seen the signs and they all point to the apocalypse, then I’d like to make a wager.

Artemis Blount’s Los Angeles Community Craigslist post gets straight to the point: If you really think you know when the world is ending, put your money where your mouth is. If the flood or plague or antichrist of your choosing comes in the year you predicted, you win. Wagers start at $100 and include one small spiritual perk: Blount will “devote my life to whatever philosophy has thus been proven right.”

Even in Los Angeles’ neck of the Craigslist woods, a soul for sale is one of the stranger things you can find listed. But Blount says that in order to let believers know that you’re serious, you have “to promise them something more than money.” And she, and the growing trend of others betting on the end of the world, are serious. Sort of. They’ve been pushing back against doomsayers and doomsday profiteers by asking them to pay up or shut up.

As crazy as betting on the end of the world sounds, the growing trend seems right at home in Los Angeles. The City of Angels (if ironically) might not be widely known as a city of the devout — Woody Allen once decried it as a place whose major cultural contribution was right turns on red lights — but few things could be far from the truth.

A surprising 53% of Los Angelinos believe in some sort of organized congregation. That’s almost twice the rate of San Francisco’s 35% and significantly more than New York’s 44%. Just about any religion and denomination on earth has a representative here. Within a few blocks of Miracle Mile, you can get audited by Lord Xenu’s acolytes, request a prayer from a Korean Pentecostal preacher or buy a magic spell at your local Botanica.

And in this city of believers, a lot of them have believed in the end of the world. Jim Jones brought his followers here in the 70’s to preach the nuclear apocalypse shortly before moving everyone to Jonestown to enjoy the Kool-Aid. David Berg established a community to breed members of The Family to battle the impending anti-Christ. Not, of course, to be confused with Charles Manson’s more sanguinary Hollywood end-of-days cult, also nicknamed the Family.

So familiar is Los Angeles with doomsday cults that in 2010 when a Christian group wandered off into the woods one night, the Los Angeles Police Department was worried enough to launch a 22-hour man hunt to make sure that they hadn’t gone the way of Heaven’s Gate (in nearby San Diego in 1997). Luckily for everyone involved, they were found “comfortably gathered” in a local park when the rapture did not come.

And, according to scholars on the subject, Los Angeles is likely to be a lodestone for fringe-belief groups for a long time. Artist Al Ridenour thinks it’s the weather: all that sunshine and cerulean may look so much like Eden that’s ideal for “religious salesmen looking for new items to hawk.”

Historian and Urban Theorist Mike Davis thinks says it’s a mental health issue, the vestigial remains of LA’s recent history as “the nation’s sanitarium with remarkable numbers of sick and doomed people.” Maybe you should have skipped that part too.

Whatever the reason, while many of us scroll past blurbs about doomsday preachers in the news, they affect people in their sphere of influence in a very real way. Artemis Blount says that her days of being a devout believer are behind her. But once upon a time, she was a member of the Apostolic Pentecostal church. The same faith (although not the same church) as cult leader Harold Camping who famously predicted the rapture on May 21, 2001 (and also in 1994 ).

She remembers “looking at ‘the signs,’ and being sure (as my Facebook friends are) that the apocalypse was near.” And now she watches other people obsessing over “patterns that aren’t there when their anxiety gets the best of them… Everything’s a conspiracy or everything’s an inexplicable miracle from God. It’s a tiring mentality to keep up with.” And she hopes her wager, the monetary risk, will put the hysteria in perspective, “to see how far they’re willing to stand up for what they believe.”

And she’s not the only one. When one preacher named the September 2015 blood moon a sign of the apocalypse (a prediction he turned into a New York Times bestseller and a movie directed by an Oscar winner), the Irish bookmaker Paddy Power turned the prediction into an unobfuscated money-making venture and allowed punters to place a bet at impressive odds of 5,000 to 1.

They’re far from the first. Australian betting agency Sportsbet.com.au took bets on whether the 2012 Mayan apocalypse would end the world in an incurable killer virus, exploding sun, or good old fashioned zombie outbreak with different odds for each depending on likelihood.

Even the realm of science has become fair game. English bookmakers William Hill took bets on whether the Large Hadron Collider would end our collective existence at impressive odds of 1,000,000 to 1. Cambridge Cosmologist Dr. Martin Rees placed wagers on Longbets.org that the end would begin in 2020 by either organized terrorists or “individual weirdoes” with access to recipes for weapons of bioterror. His proceeds went to charity.

While some of these bets are probably more about publicizing academic theses, or making easier money off of punters, John Tierney, author of Can Humanity Survive? Want to Bet on It?, “bets like this serve a purpose. Besides stimulating public debate, they focus the issue and discipline prophets.”

And while bets on the end of the world certainly stimulate debate, that’s about as profitable as they have proven to be. The headlines for bet makers may be plenty, but the profits are few. Even though believers stood to make a fortune with odds as high as 1,000,000 to 1 only a few hundred was taken in. Even the promise of Artemis Blount’s Immortal soul was able to attract no takers.

Some say it’s a question of collection: how do you pocket the money once the world is over? But William Hill’s spokesman Graham Sharpe says that that’s more evidence of lack of faith: “I have always believed there will be bookmakers in the hereafter — with the crucial difference that they will only ever take winning bets from their celestial customers, and therefore be in a kind of bookie Hell for eternity!”

If you have the faith to take Artemis Blount up on her offer, you can find it here.