Betting obsession takes up British Isles


People who think that wagering on the cliché of some sport commentator is only a joke, are mistaken. Recently some bookmakers had to pay out at least £20,000 or $36,000 on the first cliché john Motson, the well-known BBC soccer commentator, would speak at the start of the England vs Portugal soccer game in July on national television. About 50 people guessed right that he would say his notorious phrase “these are nervous moments”.

This cliché was offered at 40 to 1 in line with some other offerings like “Captain Marvel”, an expression for the soccer star David Beckham, “dreaded penalties” and “boy wonder,” a nod to top scorer Wayne Rooney.

“Betting is not a bad word in Ireland or the U.K.,” said Paddy Power, the communications director for Paddy Power, Ireland’s largest bookmaker. People in this area even made a term for placing a wager – “taking a flutter”. Now, when wagering became very popular and so accessible with Internet development, this passion starts capturing every opportunity appropriate for it.

According to, the list of wagering offerings includes options like how many sips of water the chancellor will take during his budget speech, who will be next actor to play James Bond, and will J.K. Rowling kill off Harry Potter.

Novelty betting was developed in Britain and Ireland in the past five years, attracting new, casual gamblers. Some of its participants are women, who hope to make money off their conviction that “Sex and the City” will hold a reunion by 2005 or that Beckham will part from his wife by year’s end.

“There aren’t many countries you can do this in. We don’t lead the world in much, but in this, we do,” said Graham Sharpe, a spokesman for the bookmaking company William Hill.

Paddy Power’s representative added: “We’re willing to take bets on anything, even two flies climbing a wall or the price of oil this Friday.” This company now opened lines concerning which character from “The Simpsons” would come out of the closet in January, presenting odds of 66 to 1 on Homer Simpson, 14 to 1 on Comic Book Guy and 5 to 2 on Waylon Smithers as the favourite.

People interested in the Vatican can always take a flutter on who will replace Pope John Paul II. Paddy Power commented: “We bet on the next manager of Manchester United. Why not to bet on the next manager of the church?”

Some betting ideas come from ordinary people and bookmakers decide whether to accept them, others are invented by bookies. The spokesperson of William Hill said the company accepted its first novelty bet in the 1960s, when someone asked if he could place a GBP10 bet that a human would land on the moon. Bookies offered the wager at 1,000 to 1 and finally they paid out money when Neil Armstrong did it.

The similar William Hill’s opportunity was 1969 wagering on “Will life be found on Mars?” The company, in a fit of panic, decided to close this option earlier this year after NASA discovered new signs of water on the planet. Nevertheless, the company will pay out on existing bets if life is officially declared on Mars.

Currently the most popular and lucrative business for bookies are reality shows and politics. For example, this week wagering operators offered equal odds (5 to 6 by Paddy Power) for President George W. Bush and John Kerry.

According to Sharpe, setting the odds on some bets is mostly guesswork. “Jenny Myers, 33, collected GBP750 in July after betting five years ago that her sister, Anne Redhead, a redhead, would give birth to a redhead. She took up a collection at the wedding, as a joke really, but a friend sent her to the bookmaker. On May 26, Anne Redhead gave birth to a boy, with a big lock of red hair”, he said.

Paddy Power’s representative commented: “Gambling is possibly too strong a word here. It’s having a laugh. No one would be willing to part with hundreds of thousands on a bet about who will turn out gay on the Simpsons.”

Author: Terry Aki

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