24-hour punt for pin-stripes

City bookmaker IG Index will become Britain's first round-the- clock betting shop when it opens 24 hours a day this Tuesday.

Not that punters will be able to lay odds on the first race at Hong Kong's Happy Valley race track or Magic Johnson's late-night net tally in the States. Instead, City pin-stripes will be able to take a punt on Wall Street or Tokyo's Nikkei index at any time of day or night.

The pioneer of the "spread betting" phenomenon will also be taking bets on the general election result until 2am on 2 May.

Managing director Stuart Wheeler says the City is laying record bets on the outcome, with "heavy buying of Labour and selling of Tories" the hardly surprising feature from the market's professional gamblers.

But lest any think him a sucker for a one-way bet, he promises IG will be better prepared than in 1992. "Then I was out of the office on election night. After Basildon went blue, pundits at the BBC and ITV were still predicting a hung parliament, and we got taken to the cleaners."

Under the spread system, IG is now offering odds of 367-373 for Labour seats, implying a Labour majority of at least 75.

To liven things up, IG Index is also offering spreads on the next Tory leader, Sir James Goldsmith's votes in Putney and the number of votes John Major gets more or less in Huntingdon than Tony Blair in Sedgefield.

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