In this March 1, 2013 file photo, Jessica Bridge, a spo […]
(Mint Press) – Elbert Hubbard, an American writer and philosopher, once wrote:
“The only man who makes money following the races is [the] one who does it with a broom and shovel.”
Despite this, for many — despite the unfavorable odds and the noticeable bias to the house — gambling is a way of life. It represents easy money, an adrenaline high and participation in an event that a person can otherwise just observe.
The papal conclave that is currently underway is giving millions of people a chance to bet on an event that rarely occurs — the election of a pope. In light of the secrecy of the time-honored ceremonies, bettors are taking the opportunity to wage on their favorite papabile.
In the United States, it is illegal to vote on the papal conclave. Federal law mandates that it is illegal for Americans to profit from or gamble on an election, even if the election is not on American soil.
“It’s not legal in the United States,” says American Gaming Association spokeswoman Holly Wetzel. “Sports books in Nevada are not taking bets on the pope — some cite the illegality of taking bets on elections, some say it’s a matter of ‘taste.'”
Federal law has not been tested in regards to the legality of Internet betting of papal elections. In 2011, the Justice Department reversed itself on whether Internet gaming is a violation of the Federal Wire Act. Due to the Justice Department ruling, the prohibition is considered active only for betting on a “sporting event or contest.” It will require a judge to rule if papal elections qualify as a contest or not.
Americans cannot, as of now, place bets with foreign bookmakers.
This, however, will not stop millions in America and abroad from voting on who will be the next pope, as it has not effectively hinder voting on presidential elections. Office pools and non-monetary betting — such as Religion News Service “Sweet Sistine” — are proliferating throughout the country. Religion News Service has received more than 100,000 hits for its feature so far.
History of papal betting
“There is a long history of betting on the pope,” said Rev. James Martin, a Jesuit priest in New York and an editor at America, the national Catholic magazine. “Unofficial betting has probably been going on since as long as there were conclaves.”
“We are expecting this pope betting to be the biggest round of non-sporting betting in Paddy Power history — it’s a big market,” said spokesman Rory Scott. “It’s going to pick up as we head into conclave and we think it will reach about 7 million dollars.”
Paddy Power is offering betting on who will be pope, his age, nationality, what his regal name will be, the conclave’s start date and duration and even where the new pope’s first foreign visit will be. Paddy Power is Ireland’s biggest bookmaker.
In 1591, Pope Gregory XIV banned Catholics from betting on the election of a pope or the length of a pope’s reign. The price of being caught gambling on the pope was excommunication, or shunning, from the church. The ban was created because during the 1549-1550 papal conclave, the oath of secrecy for the conclave was clearly broken, as bankers that offered betting spreads on the papabili had inside knowledge of the sealed polling and changed the odds as the voting progressed.
In the 15th century, it was not uncommon for life insurance policies to be taken out against the serving pope as a speculative venture.
Despite the ban, betting continued. According to a New York Times article in 1878, “The Italians are all superstitious, and all fond of the lottery. Every great event leads to speculation in numbers. The deaths and advents of the Popes has always given rise to an excessive amount of gambling in the lottery, and today the people of Italy are in a state of excitement that is indescribable. Figures are picked out which have some relation with the life or death of Pius IX. Every day large sums are paid for tickets in the lottery about to be drawn.”
In 1903, the Italian government held a lottery (in violation of church decree) that offered odds on the date of Pope Leo XII’s death. Had the pope died a week earlier, the government would have lost over $1 million.
With the abrogation of the old system of canon law in 1918, the ban on gambling on the pope faded away (although, it is still frowned on). In the 2005 conclave, Frank Delaney, an Irish novelist, wrote in the New York Times, “if the smart money is telling it right, the next pope will be one of the following three men” — Joseph Ratzinger, Carlo Martini or Jean-Marie Lustiger.
Mint Press News is providing the following odds for informative purposes only. Mint Press News does not advocate or support gambling in any form.
As of the first day of the conclave, Angelo Scola is currently leading — according to Paddy Power — at 5/2 to 1 odds. Odilo Pedro Scherer is following at 4 to 1 with Peter Turkson third with 6 to 1. However, BETFRED, BETVictor, William Hill, 32 Red, Betfair and BETDAQ all have Peter Turkson with odds shortening or improving. BETFRED, Paddy Power, 32 Red, Betfair and BETDAQ show Scola’s odds to be drifting or worsening.
Bono, the lead singer of the band U2, has 1000 to 1 odds.
All of this, however, may or may not reflect the realities in the conclave. In 2005, Joseph Ratzinger’s odds were 20 to 1.
Current odds, however, are following trends from leading Vatican watchers.
“I check Paddy Power every day just to see who is up and who is down,” Martin says. “But the Holy Spirit is not checking Paddy Power and it is up to the Holy Spirit — not the odds on Paddy Power.”