As always, I'm stuck in a Hitchens sentence from God Is Not Great.

Here it is:

If you believe in god and there is a god, you win. If you believe in him and you are wrong — so what? I once wrote a response to this cunning piece of bet-covering, which took two forms.

I can't get the meaning of bet-covering here.

Should I take it as "a disguise/mask for betting/gambling etc."?

Or should I consider the meaning of the verb "cover" in the context of a bet, roulette etc., as in

You can place your chip to cover three numbers

3 Answers 3


It is a term used in gambling.

If a bookmaker accepts a large bet, let's say on a horse, he may want to cover himself against the possibility of paying out a large sum.

So he 'lays it off' with another bookmaker, by placing an amount on the same horse. So if the horse wins he collects money as well as pays out.

This is known as bet-covering.

The same principle applies in the field of insurance. An insurer who stands to lose heavily in the event of a risk materialising, covers himself by taking a policy with a re-insurer.

  • Thank you for your answer. I think that's the one I've been loking for. I think I have the full understanding of the phrase now.
    – A.K.
    Jun 25, 2015 at 11:19

I believe this refers to taking precautions in case you lose your gamble.

In context, if a god does exist, you "win" your bet and enjoy the afterlife. Since believing doesn't adversely affect your life, it appears to be the superior option, allowing you to avoid losing (since you either "win" or "not lose").

On the other hand, if you were to actively disbelieve and a god does exist, you will suffer in the afterlife and have nothing to gain either if He doesn't exist.

If you gain, you gain all; if you lose, you lose nothing.

This is actually a reference to Pascal's Wager, which posits all humans bet with their lives on the existence of God. (Excerpt below from the wiki page)

  1. God is, or God is not. Reason cannot decide between the two alternatives.
  2. A Game is being played... where heads or tails will turn up.
  3. You must wager (it is not optional).
  4. Let us weigh the gain and the loss in wagering that God is. Let us estimate these two chances. If you gain, you gain all; if you lose, you lose nothing.
  5. Wager, then, without hesitation that He is. (...) There is here an infinity of an infinitely happy life to gain, a chance of gain against a finite number of chances of loss, and what you stake is finite. And so our proposition is of infinite force, when there is the finite to stake in a game where there are equal risks of gain and of loss, and the infinite to gain.
  • @Huey - Thank you for your answer. It's a considerate explanation. I know it's about Pacal's wager but I forgot to add the extra information about that. Sorry for this.
    – A.K.
    Jun 25, 2015 at 11:16

"To cover a bet" means have the money to pay if you lose. The bet here is the fallacy called "Pascal's Wager" after the philosopher who wrote about it. It says that you might as well bet that God exists because if He does, then you win, and winners don't have to pay anything. They get paid. And if God doesn't exist, then there's nobody to pay. In other words, it's a safe bet.


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