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Last Updated:  Tuesday, 8 April, 2003, 12:04 GMT 13:04 UK
Bookies gear up for Budget gamble
Glass of wine
Punters think it will be a good Budget for wine drinkers
Punters still nursing losses from Saturday's Grand National have an early opportunity to get back at the bookmakers.

Wednesday's Budget has prompted the bookies to offer their usual range of bets on what the chancellor has to offer.

Spread bets on offer range from possible changes in tax and duty to how many sips of water he will take during his speech.

But the bookies say Gordon Brown's cautious style has taken some of the fun out of Budget betting.

"Betting has tailed off a bit because he's so predictable," says Jim Morrison, senior trader at Financial Spreads.

Odds on length of Gordon Brown's Budget speech
Under 55 mins - 5/2
55-60 mins - 2/1
Over 60 mins - evens
Source: Ladbrokes
"Prior to Brown there was a lot more uncertainty."

Nigel Lawson is looked upon fondly as a chancellor who was good for surprises and who also "really piled through his speeches".

Politicians were also more prone to a bet in years gone by, but even though you might think they might get some pretty good inside tips, Mr Morrison says MPs' punts were "invariably wrong".

Guesswork

The pre-announcement of many Budget measures has restricted the scope for betting on fresh policy changes.

Gordon Brown speaking in the House of Commons
Gordon Brown gets ready to add to the 'Andrex' count
But that has not stopped the bookies from finding new areas to offer odds in.

"There is still quite a lot of guesswork involved and there are always one or two surprises," says Freddie Tulloch at IG Index.

Punters can make bets on issues such as the length of the chancellor's speech and the number of times he says certain words such as "tax", "war" and - Mr Brown's old favourite - "prudence".

There is also the charmingly named 'Andrex' market which looks at how many sheets of paper he will read from (Financial Spreads reckon it will be between 66 and 70).

And those High Street stalwarts - booze and fags - are still proving a big draw.

Market movers

If the weight of money being bet is to be believed it looks like it will be a good Budget for drinkers and smokers.

When IG Index opened its book for this year's Budget they predicted a 13p increase on a bottle of spirits and 11p on a bottle of wine, but the betting so far has been for much smaller rises.

"Our clients have come in and hammered us," says Mr Tulloch.

As a result, IG have cut their predicted increases to 6-8p for a bottle of spirits and 4-6p for wine.

The increase in a packet of 20 cigarettes has also come in from 12-15p to 9-11p.

Futures market

For those punters looking beyond Wednesday's Budget, bookmakers are now speculating on how long Gordon Brown will remain chancellor.

Speculation has increased in recent months over his prospects of becoming prime minister, while there has also been talk of Tony Blair moving Mr Brown to another department.

Financial Spreads estimate that Gordon Brown will remain chancellor for the next 90 to 92 weeks, which would keep him in the role until the end of 2004.

However, the company is not predicting whether his movement when he leaves the Treasury will be up or down.





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