Conservatives long odds as bookies set to take pounds 10m in bets

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The Independent Online
The odds really are against them. Betting on the election is one big business where the money is not on the Tories' side.

More than pounds 10m is likely to be riding on the result come 1 May, the largest sum on an election since political punting began.

But with William Hill offering the longest odds they have ever offered on a Tory win - at 11-1 - and Labour now at 1-6, the shortest odds for a clear win since they lost power in 1979, the only likely way to make money through the Tories now is by adopting an alternative strategy.

Guessing how many seats the parties will win is an option. At the spread betting firm, City Index, you can guess how many votes the citizens of Huntingdon will cast for the Prime Minister or even what will happen to David Mellor against Sir James Goldsmith. Meanwhile, Ladbrokes will give you 800-1 on a Liberal Democrat victory, for instance, while William Hill gave Lord Sutch 15 million-1 for a pounds 5 stake on him becoming Prime Minister.

Punters can also get 16-1 on a second election this year.

Ed Nicholson of Ladbrokes said they had been looking forward to the election for ages and so had the public. Though the National Lottery has hit bookmakers, it has also encouraged interest. "The lottery has made people view betting as something they can do every day. They don't see it as an evil," he said.

With the parties so far apart in the polls, there were two ways of looking at backing one or other party to win. Ladbrokes were offering 1-8 on Labour and 9-2 on the Tories yesterday. Where a small bet would not be worth it by the time tax was paid, the professional gambler willing to risk thousands can make a significant return. But in these circumstances, smaller punters will risk a fiver on the possibility of a late Tory surge.

In spread betting, you win or lose depending on how close you are to a correct prediction on a range of possible results.

At City Index, the latest money is on Labour winning between 364 and 370 seats - down on last week - with the Conservatives at 243 to 249 and Liberal Democrats between 24 and 26.

The sleaze scandals of recent days have actually encouraged money on the Tories performing above expectations.

But the world's record bet of pounds 95,000 is on Labour in a double with Rangers to win the Scottish premier league. Graham Sharpe of William Hill said: "This person believes he's better off having a gamble for six weeks than leaving it in a building society."

Last time the bookies got it right where the pollsters were wrong. On the day of the election, they all gave the Conservatives the edge. As Neil Murphy of City Index said, pollsters asking how people vote is one thing, "asking people to put their money on it another".

Yet despite everything, the lure of the ballot box is nothing compared with that of the race track. William Hill expects to take pounds 3m on the election. They will take pounds 15m at next week's Grand National.

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