Gamblers take punt on US election

November 5, 2008

, LONDON, November 5 – Gathered in an office in a north London business park, a group of about a dozen middle-aged men took a unique approach to the US presidential election, literally watching their fortunes rise and fall with those of Barack Obama and John McCain.

While others in the capital watched the results in bars and pubs, the men behind British website proudly told how they were putting their money where their mouths were by betting, and winning, several thousand pounds.

The website\’s founder, Mike Smithson, a retired political journalist and local councillor, told AFP how he placed a 28-pound (35-euro, 45-dollar) wager on Obama to become the next president — on May 26, 2005, at odds of 50 to one.

"I love predicting elections, I get real pleasure out of doing that," said Smithson, who added that his entire income — around 1,200 to 1,500 pounds a month (1,900-2,400 dollars, 1,500-1,850 euros) — was from gambling profits.

"Anyone can say who\’s going to win, but I put this money on."

His main bet for the US election was a spread wager on the number of electoral votes Obama would win: Smithson expected the Democrat to win 320 seats, and for each seat above that figure, he stood to gain 40 pounds.

Smithson said that since his bet on Obama in May 2005, he has made around 7,000 pounds on the United States election.

His deputy on the website said he had made around 1,500 pounds in that time. At one point he snagged a 90-to-one bet that Obama\’s rival for the Democratic presidential nomination, Hillary Clinton, would win the New Hampshire primary in January, which she did.

The deputy, who asked to be identified only by his Internet screen name Morus, insisted the betting markets were a better predictive sign in politics than opinion polls or political commentators.

"There\’s a suspicion of talking heads — how easy it is for talking heads to say this is going to happen, or that is going to happen," said Morus, a management consultant by day.

"The benefit of political betting is that people aren\’t prepared to say anything unequivocally unless they\’re prepared to put their money where their mouth is. It weeds out a lot of soft, weak talk."

One member of the group interjected, noting that Obama had been made a favourite for re-election even before his victory had even been confirmed.

Morus chuckled, saying: "We\’re not going to wait until tomorrow to get started on the next election."

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