Some may consider betting on the next pope as blasphemous, some ridiculous. But Papal Conclave betting actually boasts a rich 500-year history. So who will be the next pope? And what do the odds have to say about it?
Betting on the pope originated in the 15th century (if not earlier) when people would take out life insurance policies on the incumbent head of the Catholic Church. Should the pope prematurely pass away, the speculative life insurees would be up on their venture. Should the Pope live a long life, however, then the bettors would be out of luck – and out of pocket.
Here in the 21st century, placing a bet on the next pope is a much simpler – and less morbid – proposition. Pinnacle Sports has been offering outright markets on the ten most-likely cardinals to don the big hat since February 12th:
Marc Ouellet (Canada) 7.260*
Peter Turkson (Ghana) 3.140*
Francis Arinze (Nigeria) 34.960*
Angelo Scola (Italy) 3.100*
Leonardo Sandri (Argentina) 22.020*
Gianfranco Ravasi (Italy) 18.840*
Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga (Honduras) 44.980*
Angelo Bagnasco (Italy) 20.430*
Jean-Louis Pierre Tauran (France) 157.130*
Tarcisio Bertone (Italy) 4.630*
To see the latest odds on the next Pope click here.
Pope betting movement – what the odds say
The odds to be the next pope present bettors with an interesting insight into how betting markets work. Despite their expertise, none of the traders at Pinnacle Sports spend their free time studiously engaged in the Vatican’s affairs, and therefore the markets are massively – if not entirely – weighted by public opinion.
A look at how the odds moved over the first four days of going live – as illustrated in the table to the left – show that the initial odds set by the bookmaker had Tarcisio Bertone as massively underrated at 11.000, which quickly moved to 4.800 after a flurry of activity.
The rush to capitalise on his long odds was soon corrected by the market, however, when activity (proportionally) dropped off on the Italian cardinal and he slipped back out to 7.18 by February 21st. These corrections are displayed on the graphs as a sharp turn followed by a relatively steady (quite horizontal) line.
It’s also interesting to note the spread of odds between potential popes. Initially the favourites were Peter Turkson and Marc Ouellet at 5.000, with the biggest long-shot Jean-Louis Pierre Tauran at 12.000 – a spread of 7 points between them.
After four days, Turkson was leading the pack at 4.550 and Tauran had fallen to 18.36 (a spread of 13.81). By day nine (Feb 21st), Ouellet was still leading at 4.700 while Tauran had drifted to 37.030 (a 32.33 spread). It’s quite clear from the graph that as the market developed, outsiders drift consistently further and further, while incorrect odds (such as Bertone’s) are sharply corrected by the market.
Not depicted in the graphs is the impact of Cardinal O’Brien’s (Head of Roman Catholic Church in Scotland) resignation on February 25th. The anti-homosexual preacher recently confessed to homosexual activities, inflicting yet another embarrassing blow to the Vatican over its hypocritical adherence to conservative values.
This may have had some influence on the movement of odds, as bettors try to second-guess how the conclave’s decision may be influenced by the scandal. Peter Turkson, for example, has been among favourites from the start, but has made controversially anti-gay comments, which may damage his chances if the O’Brien scandal is considered relevant.
Pope betting tips – things to consider
Like any betting market, there are many factors to consider when betting on who will be the next pope. Understanding the voting methodology for the Papal Conclave is vital in placing an informed bet.
The College of Cardinals – the Church’s most senior officials as appointed by previous popes – elects the new pope. According to the Universi Dominici Gregis, a maximum of 120 cardinals may take place in the election, and none of these may be aged over 80 years-old.
While there are currently 203 cardinals from 69 countries, only 117 of those will be younger than the age limit and therefore eligible to vote. This means that the required number of votes needed – two-thirds of the Conclave plus one – is set at 79 votes (less any cardinals that drop out or pass away in the meantime, such as O’Brien).
Watch the news for Pope betting updates
It’s also important to note that – according to Vatican rules – the conclave must convene between 15 and 20 days after the pope resigns. With Pope Benedict XVI having stood-down on February 28th, bettors should closely follow the news. Influential Roman Catholic blogs, for example, could be a key source of underreported updates.
The period between the pope’s abdication and the conclave will see cardinals attempting to strengthen previous relationships and form coalitions – after all, like traditional elections, the papacy is also based on personal politics.
As well as watching for updates in the news, studying the historic relationships between cardinals is vitally important. Alliances undoubtedly already exist amongst the cardinals, most likely divided by religious ideology.
For example, 67 of the eligible cardinals were appointed by Benedict XVI, so it’s possible to surmise that a majority of those will have similar viewpoints to his. Fifty were appointed by his predecessor John Paul II.
Other distinctions – such as geography – could also prove important – a non-European Pope is yet to be appointed. About half of the Cardinals (61) are European, with 21 of those being Italian. There are also 19 Latin Americans, 14 North Americans, 11 Africans, 11 Asians and one cardinal from Australia.
Bet on the Pope = bet on the future of the church
More than just a pope, the conclave is also choosing the future direction of the church. This means that factors affecting Catholicism should also be considered.
For example, with the decline in the popularity of the Church, will the conclave reach out to key followers in South America by installing the Argentinian candidate Leonardo Sandri or an African in Turkson or Arinze? Or after Ratzinger was implicated in the child abuse scandal, will the electors be particularly interested in a candidate without other skeletons in his closet?
Also, with many viewing Pope Benedict XVI’s resignation due to age, will the conclave aim for a younger candidate? The Pope is now on Twitter, so the Vatican clearly thinks social media is important; maybe a cardinal’s understanding of technology will prove key?
The x-factor in betting on the next Pope
The conclave votes are held in the utmost secrecy, with all forms of communication with the outside world banned. Any notes taken during a day’s session are also burned at the end of the day, so historical voting records are also top secret and subject to rumour and speculation – making it impossible to use this information reliably.
The other x-factor is that technically, the conclave can elect any baptised Roman Catholic male to be pope. Of course, the result will probably be a cardinal, as the conclave has chosen one every time since 1378, and all listed on the Pope odds at Pinnacle Sports hold that position. So on this occasion, a miracle is unlikely to happen.
*Odds subject to change
If you have feedback, comments or questions regarding this article, please email the author
or send us a tweet on Twitter