Gambling on the next pope


HONOLULU—As the College of Cardinals at the Vatican convenes for a secret vetting process to select retired Pope Benedict XVI’s successor, heavy betting is going on in the world outside. Gamblers betting on who the next pope will be? It seems outrageous, but you better believe it—and it’s not even in Las Vegas.

Just a couple of hours after Benedict announced that he was stepping down, an Irish bookmaker, Paddy Power, told the media that about 20,000 people had placed bets amounting to $200,000 on who the next leader of the Catholic Church would be.

This was reported in a recent issue of USA Today by Natalie DiBlasio, who wrote that the betting would escalate quickly into millions of dollars as the historic “conclave” day of the high priests neared. Power’s spokesperson Rory Scott predicted that this betting would be a “big market”  as “we head into the conclave, and we think it will reach about $7 million!”

But what are the details of this highly unusual gambling experience? And isn’t it “illegal,” as most gambling activities are supposed to be? The whole betting has to be a “secret” in secluded places, like the conclave.

Power and his group offer the following details in the betting process: a) who the next pope will be; b) his nationality; c) what his new papal name will be; d) when the conclave will start and how long  it will be; and e) when his first foreign visit will take place.

The winner, of course, is the one who will come closest to the real answers to these five questions.

According to DiBlasio, Cardinal Peter Turkson of Ghana is the frontrunner with odds of 11-4.  Of course, again, this may have changed at this writing. If he ends up being selected, he will be the first African pope in history.

Next in line are: Cardinal Angelo Scola of Italy with odds of 3-1; Cardinal Ouellet of Canada, 6-1; Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone of Italy, 6-1; Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco of Italy, 8-1; and Cardinal Leonardo Sandri of Argentina, 12-1.

Apparently, the “most popular” item in the gambling market is what the papal name of the next pope will be: that name is “Peter.”

How about the age group that the next pope will come from? The bettors think he will be “young” as in 65 years or under. This places Ouellet, Turkson and New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan in close contention on the age category.

Where in heaven’s name  can you place your “bets?” A spokesperson from the American Gaming Association (AGA) says something like this is “not legal” in the United States. He says, “Sports books in Nevada are not taking bets on the pope. Some cite the illegality of taking bets on elections.”  He adds, “Some say it’s a matter of taste.”

But since in this modern times, there seems to be nothing inviolate anymore, nothing will stop some “small-time fun,” especially if you have money to burn.

The AGA spokesperson further adds, “Office pools are kind of a gray area that don’t fall under regulations,”  and that anyway,  “nobody goes after those things.”  Sounds familiar, as with all gambling games? The current practice varies from state to state in America as long as the person organizing it “doesn’t take a cut.” This is fiction, of course, as everybody gets to know who is getting a cut, for Christ’s sake!

As surprising as this papal gambling sounds, it is really  “nothing new,” James Martin, S.J., editor of America, the national Catholic magazine, says. “Unofficial betting has probably been going on since as long as there were conclaves,” Martin surmises. More than 2,000 years ago that is.

Or even long before the first pope was named. Didn’t the Roman praetorian guards at Christ’s crucifixion in Golgotha draw lots as to who would inherit the dying Jesus’ robe?

Dr. Belinda A. Aquino is professor emeritus at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, where she was professor of political science and Asian Studies and founding director of the Center for Philippine Studies.

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Tags: benedict XVI , Catholic Church , Conclave , gambling , Pope , Religion , Vatican

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