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Last Updated: Monday, 18 April, 2005, 16:27 GMT 17:27 UK
Bookie meets Vatican displeasure

By Peter Gould
BBC News, Rome

It was the moment bookmaker Paddy Power came face to face with Vatican disapproval.

Paddy Power at St Peter's Square, the Vatican
The odds on who will be the next pope are shifting by the minute

Standing in St Peter's Square, displaying his odds for the papal election, the Dublin bookie was quickly spotted.

Security staff in dark suits walked over and suggested quietly but firmly that he should move on.

He saw the look in their eyes and decided to vacate his pitch before the Swiss Guards were called.

Mr Power is at pains to point out he was not actually taking money off punters in St Peter's Square.

Punter popularity

But his betting shops in Britain and Ireland have been doing brisk business on the outcome of the conclave.

And his online betting operation has been drawing bets from all over the world.

"It has absolutely exploded," he says, as we gaze at the Sistine Chapel, where the cardinals cast their votes.

There is nothing wrong in priests having a bet, and you often see them at the races
Paddy Power

"The whole world is interested in who becomes the next pope, and the whole world wants to have a bet too."

So far, the company has taken more than 10,000 bets, and the odds have been changing by the minute.

The largest bet so far is one of 1,500 euros, staked by a woman in Turin, on Cardinal Carlo Martini.

He is a 78-year-old Italian, retired and not in the best of health.

But some experts believe he could be the focus of a campaign by liberal-minded cardinals who want reform.

PADDY POWER'S CURRENT ODDS
Cardinal Francis Arinze (Nigeria): 3-1 (fav)
Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (Germany): 9-2
Cardinal Jean-Marie Lustiger (France): 5-1
Cardinal Dionigi Tettamanzi (Italy): 7-1
Cardinal Carlo Martini (Italy): 7-1
Cardinal Claudio Hummes (Brazil): 8-1

New pope's name
Benedict 3-1
John Paul 7-2
Pius 6-1
Peter 8-1
Innocent: 40-1
Damian: 80-1


Duration of conclave
1 day: 14-1
2 days: 6-4
3 days: 6-4
4 days: 9-1
5 days: 7-2
6 days or over: 7-1

The punter placed the bet at odds of 25-1, and stands to win 40,000 euros if Cardinal Martini is elected.

Needless to say, his odds have now shortened considerably.

In the language of the racecourse, some of the early favourites have "drifted out", with the Archbishop of Milan, Cardinal Dionigi Tettamanzi, now quoted at 7-1.

Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger of Germany is thought by Vatican watchers to have a lot of support in the conclave.

But according to Mr Power, he is now "friendless" with punters, being quoted at 9-2.

But the firm has taken one wager of 1,000 euros on the Nigerian, Cardinal Francis Arinze. Previously 8-1, he is now the 3-1 favourite.

Bolt of lightning

"Some people think the Church is not ready for a black pope," says Mr Power.

"But some people clearly think the time is right. I was walking around St Peter's Square yesterday and I bumped into him, so maybe that's a sign!"

The Catholic Church frowns on the idea of treating the papal succession like the Grand National.

But Paddy Power's gamble in opening a book seems to have paid off. So far there has been no bolt of lightning from the heavens.

He says most gamblers are staking "30 to 50 quid", or British pounds, on the outcome, with 80 of the 115 cardinals now listed in the betting.

He who goes into the conclave a pope, comes out a cardinal
Old Vatican saying

"Maybe it will be one of the outsiders," says Mr Power. "That would be good for the bookies."

But who is betting on the papacy? He can't be sure, but some of the smart money may be coming from the clergy.

"There is nothing wrong in priests having a bet, and you often see them at the races," says the bookmaker.

Needless to say, none of the cardinals who feature in the betting would acknowledge that they have a chance of becoming pope.

Campaigning for the papacy is strictly forbidden. Most cardinals would be embarrassed even to be mentioned as a papal runner.

In conclave, they will now be cut off from the outside world until they reach their decision.

Unspoken ambition

That should make it impossible for anyone to obtain inside information and pull off a betting coup.

The person with the most to lose is probably the unfortunate cardinal tipped to be pope.

This is one race where being the favourite is a serious handicap.

There is an old Vatican saying: "He who goes into the conclave a pope, comes out a cardinal."

That may please those cardinals who have no desire to take on such a daunting job.

But for some, it could mean the end of an unspoken ambition.




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