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Gamblers cash in on new Pope

Associated Press

Dublin — When Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was elected pope, he was hardly the only winner. Thousands worldwide placed bets on him through the Web — and an inspired few hundred even correctly guessed he'd take the name Benedict.

Among a handful of Internet-based bookmakers who offered odds on the next pope, the biggest player was Paddy Power PLC, the No. 1 bookie in Ireland, which has taken bets on John Paul's successor for the past five years.

Minutes after Benedict XVI appeared in St. Peter's Square, Paddy Power was collecting — or paying out — on more than 10,000 bets totalling more than $320,000.

The biggest winners: Someone who put down $1,300 Saturday on a Ratzinger victory at odds of 6 to 1, which meant a payout of $9,100; and somebody else who waged $320 on the new pontiff's taking Benedict, which at 3-to-1 odds meant $1,300 back. The money kept flowing in until the white smoke appeared.

“We were kind of hoping the conclave would run for two weeks,” said Paddy Power, spokesman for the firm of the same name, in a telephone interview from Rome, where the company has been promoting its Vatican specials.

Paddy Power, fellow Dublin betting site Intrade and three British bookies — betfair.com, Pinnacle and William Hill — all rated Cardinal Ratzinger either as favourite or second-favourite. His victory meant they all still made a profit, because of all the other bets placed on a field of more than 100 other candidates, but only a modest one.

“If a real long shot had won it, we'd have taken home the full 200 grand,” Power said, referring to his firm's total of bets on a field of about 90 cardinals.

Other betting sites had Ratzinger as clear favourite. At Pinnacle, for instance, he opened two weeks ago at odds of 7 to 1, but those narrowed to just 3 to 1 by Tuesday.

At Paddy Power, Cardinal Ratzinger was once listed at odds of more than 20 to 1. Since Pope John Paul II's death, Cardinal Ratzinger had surged ahead of initial favourite Dionigi Tettamanzi of Italy.

Paddy Power was the only bookmaker to take bets on the papal name. It listed Benedict as favourite, just ahead of John Paul.

Power said the firm's odds makers would take a few days to think up some new pope-related bets — such as the chances of Benedict XVI permitting women into the priesthood. “It'd be a brave man or woman who'd put money on that one,” he said.

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