Once upon a time, bookmakers feared specials betting such as who will be the next Pope, while they may have loved the positive PR that came with betting on political events or television series, invariably they were delighted to get through the whole thing breaking even, or even with a small loss. They didn’t have the expertise to price properly in most cases, they were too busy trying to get up to date news from the various stables to worry about what was happening on the gossip pages of the newspaper and in the vast majority of instances, compilers weren’t even that interested in what was happening.
However times change and bookies would now be a lot more comfortable laying a chunky bet on a general election (at least one in a western democracy) than they would be if the same size bet was presented on a 10/1 shot in a low grade handicap hurdle.
One event that looks like it could turn out to be a bookies’ bonanza is the betting on the next pope. In a field with theoretically nearly 1.2 billion candidates and in practice at least thirty possible winners, most bookies are taking the full 100% book out of the first five names in the betting. However while the bookies will win from all those people following the mainstream consensus of opinion in the media, that’s not to say that we can’t pick up a few bob ourselves by delving a bit deeper.
When it comes to betting on the papacy, many people are betting without knowing exactly how the event works. All Cardinals under the age of 80 are eligible to vote, meaning that there will be 117 electors at the conclave next month. Much has been said about the wish of the church to find the next pope from the new world in order to reach out to their new audience, however that notion doesn’t stack up with the mathematics of who the power brokers are in the hallowed halls of Vatican City. In the conclave that elected Cardinal Ratzinger in 2005, just over 16% of the cardinals were Italian; in next month’s election, 24% will be Italian. Pope Benedict oversaw a return to a more curial and European-oriented College of Cardinals and the biggest market mover in the event – Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone – is exactly the kind of candidate who could thrive in that environment.
The Vatican State secretary is a skilled administrator and a man who is connected to all the high powered figures in the church in various ways, much in the same way that Pope Benedict XVI was connected to everything, prior to his election. Bertone is at the heart of the Curia and his plunge down to prices as short as 3/1 in places is a nod to the fact that the conservative wing of the College still wield a lot of power.
However if the College wish to go back to basics and install an Italian, there are other candidates that are much more attractively priced. For example, Cardinal Crescenzio Sepe is available at 100/1 in places, despite the fact that he’s a well connected Italian candidate who would be seen as a safe pair of hands, with pastoral connections to South America – thereby giving a nod to the new world in the same move. It’s not the same as going the whole way and appointing an actual South American such as Jorge Mario Bergoglio, who is a much more well fancied 33/1 chance, but how often have the Catholic church surprised us with their willingness to take big steps forward in one go? Change is either slow, or glacial – never fast.
Cardinal Angelo Amato is another long shot, freely available at 80/1, who ticks all the basic boxes and must be massively overpriced as a consequence.
Of the front runners, Cardinal Peter Turkson is the most widely mentioned in the media, though that is more because he is easy to write about than for any other reason. Due to his background and the various anecdotes from his youth, including nearly getting arrested while cleaning a bank and his part in an Afro-funk band, he’s a popular and simple topic around which journalists to fill column inches. He has a chance, but he would be a radical selection and he would have to be 33/1 rather than 3/1 to warrant a bet.
Cardinal Angelo Scola is well fancied and the 2/1 about him from Skybet is the shortest single price about any candidate with any of the leading bookmakers, but there isn’t enough to separate him from the other Italian candidates to justify that price. Critically, he wouldn’t just be a European Pope but would also be perceived as a Pope who would place high levels of importance on issues that are seen as important in Rome, but not in the Catholic Church around the world. For that reason, he too is way too short in the betting. Not alone would he be an old-fashioned Italian Pope, but he would also be seen to be such, which might be a bridge too far.
Cardinal Marc Ouellet will get the North American vote and that’s not an insignificant bloc of votes, while he has done missionary work in South America and critically, he speaks Italian. Of all the front runners, he is one of those that we would be keen to keep on side – certainly the 7/1 betting about his taking the reins is attractive.
Finally, if there is to be a more radical shift away from the conservative wing of the college – and to be clear, we don’t advise betting on this – then the best compromise candidate could be Cardinal Christoph von Schonborn, a 28/1 shot with Youwin.com and 16/1 generally. He is one of the few candidates who took an active stance criticising the church’s handling of the child abuse issue and he is seen as having quite the connection with the younger members of the church – occasionally with hilarious results. It’s unlikely that Pope Benedict would have stepped down if Cardinal Schonborn was well placed to step in, however at the price, he’s a better option for those who feel that the next Pope will be a more modern, liberal individual.
Cardinal Crescenzio Sepe @ 100/1 (0.5pt stake)
Cardinal Angelo Amato @ 80/1 (0.5pt stake)
Cardinal Marc Ouellet @ 7/1 (1pt stake)