March 12, 2013

Bookmakers say good money's on an Italian pope

The Associated Press

LONDON — Bookmakers in betting-mad Britain are cashing in on the Roman Catholic conclave to select a new pope. As cardinals began their deliberations at the Vatican on Tuesday, here's a look at the odds.

Leading contenders

Cardinal Angelo Scola of Milan was leading the pack for many bookmakers. Ladbrokes had the Italian with odds of 2-1, while Paddy Power and William Hill both had him at 9-4.

"The money keeps coming for Scola and we've been forced to slash his odds," said Jessica Bridge of Ladbrokes. "The closer we get to the conclave, it's harder to see an outsider causing an upset."

That helps explain why Paddy Power was taking bets that the next pope will hail from Italy at 1-1.

From there the race gets convoluted, but a few names stand out. William Hill said its original favorite, Cardinal Francis Arinze of Nigeria, had fallen to odds of 40-1. The betting house now has Ghana's Cardinal Peter Turkson in second place with odds of 7-2 and Brazil's Cardinal Odilo Scherer third at 4-1.

Long shots

There's little agreement on which cardinals are the longest shots. But among non-cardinal "contenders" one name keeps popping up: U2's Bono, a rock 'n' roller known for his charitable works and political activism.

The singer is listed with odds of 1,000-1 at Paddy Power, Ladbrokes and William Hill. Other names out of left field include Italian soccer star Mario Balotelli and pop sensation Justin Bieber, who are listed at 2,500-1 and 10,000-1, respectively.


Bookmakers are taking in significant sums. Paddy Power said that since Pope Benedict XVI resigned, prognosticators have spent more than 500,000 pounds ($743,122) speculating on his replacement. Ladbrokes said about 10,000 pounds has been staked, with the figure expected to rise if the voting drags on. William Hill said it has received bets in the "thousands" coming from more than 50 countries.

Speaking of how long . . .

People are also placing bets on how long it will take the cardinals to elect a pope. William Hill had Tuesday as the favorite, at 5-2, with 6-4 odds on Wednesday.

What's in a name

Paddy Power's second-largest pope-related market is for what name Benedict's successor will take – with Leo, Gregory and Pius among the most popular predictions. A 17th Benedict stood at a moderate 12-1; a first Pope Damian stood at 500-1.

Star power and payoffs

Retired basketball legend Dennis Rodman – fresh off a trip to North Korea – was doing publicity for Paddy Power in a light-hearted "campaign" for Turkson to become the first black pope.

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