For gamblers laying wagers on the election of the next pope, the smart money is on Cardinal Peter Turkson of Ghana, a strong favorite at 11/4 odds at the Irish Internet gambling company PaddyPower.com.
For those who prefer backing a long shot, however, hometown candidate Cardinal Sean O’Malley, Archbishop of Boston, is on the board at 40/1 odds.
But O’Malley is even a bigger underdog than another hometown favorite, the Boston Red Sox, who after their worst season in a generation are listed at 28/1 to win the next World Series.
It might be in bad taste, but gambling on the papal conclave may be as old as the conclave itself; it was enough of a problem that Pope Gregory XIV reportedly banned the practice under penalty of excommunication in 1591.
Las Vegas sports books do not accept bets on elections, but plenty of foreign websites are happy to take action on the vote to replace the retiring Pope Benedict XVI.
It is illegal for people within the United States to place bets with foreign Internet bookmakers, according to the American Gaming Association. That inconvenience notwithstanding, Bovada.lv, a wagering site licensed in Canada, has American clients, according to Kevin Bradley, the site’s sports book manager.
How is that possible?
“I’m not the expert on that,” Bradley said in a phone interview. “I’m the lines maker.”
His betting lines on the conclave are similar to other sites. Bradley agrees Turkson is the favorite, but watch out for Cardinal Angelo Scola, an Italian who two weeks ago was listed at a pedestrian 7/1, but has since rocketed up the rankings as bettors have increasingly wagered on him.
“We’ve had a big move for Scola,” said Bradley. “We’re taking some money on him and we’ve moved him to 11/4.”
Several gambling sites agree that thefavorites also include Marc Ouellet, of Canada; Leonardo Sandri, of Argentina; and Angelo Bagnasco, of Italy.
The papal conclave does not attract the flood of money wagered on a Super Bowl or major European soccer game, but Bovada alone expects to handle “tens of thousands” of dollars in bets on who will be the next leader of the Roman Catholic Church.
“We’ll get a lot of people who put down 10 or 20 dollars for fun,” said Bradley.
O’Malley is not listed on Bovada’s board, though a customer could request odds on the leader of the Boston Archdiocese. Bradley did some quick figuring and suggested that O’Malley would open at around 50/1.
Those would be much longer odds than Cardinal Timothy Dolan, a fellow American who opened at Bovada at 33/1 and has since moved to 25/1, as a significant number of bettors have placed money on the New York cardinal.
“Money is coming in on all the guys,” said Bradley. “People like taking the bigger risks with the long shots.”
For those who cannot stomach wagering on the conclave, there is always US politics: Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts is a 40/1 underdog to be elected president of the United States in 2016, says PaddyPower, the identical odds it offers for O’Malley to become the pope.