April 10, 2010 3:00 am

Punters raise the stakes on election races

Labour will use one of the biggest betting weekends of the year to woo the turf vote by announcing that it would force overseas betting operators to contribute to the UK's horse racing levy.

The move, which coincides with today's Grand National, reinforces comments made in January by Gerry Sutcliffe, sports minister, that all operators taking bets on British races should pay to support the racing industry.

But with anticipation high for one of the most closely fought elections of recent times, political parties big and small have themselves become the subject of increasing betting activity.

All the leading bookmakers have rushed out an array of bets, offering odds on everything from a hung parliament and voter turnout to the prospects of two elections in 2010 and of the Liberal Democrats' Vince Cable becoming chancellor in the next parliament.

Election night is slated to be a big betting event as bookmakers for the first time offer in-running betting, in which they give revised odds to punters on the overall result as constituencies across the country reveal the outcomes of their ballots.

"We used to stop betting the day before the general election," says Graham Sharpe of William Hill. "We didn't want to be seen to be affecting the outcome. But more and more people are becoming familiar with in-running betting."

Some bookmakers are for the first time offering odds in every one of the 650 constituencies. William Hill has taken its interest in the election to the point of sponsoring the Official Monster Raving Loony Party.

Bookmakers differ on the expected volume of betting during the campaign. Ladbrokes thinks the industry will make revenues of £20m, while William Hill puts it at £25m. Betfair, the betting exchange, thinks it alone will be taking £20m of bets. "We expect to double the volume of bets at the very least," says Mike Robb of Betfair.

On two things, bookmakers are united. First, the election will be the biggest ever political betting event, though for comparison, this weekend of sporting riches will see punters wage £250m.

Second, the election is not a betting event to generate profits. According to Paddy Power, son of the Irish bookmaker's founder, political punters tend to be far more knowledgeable about the inside track in Westminster and local constituencies than the bookmakers' odds setters.

"There is a very good chance we will lose money," says Mr Power. "When you get markets in various individual constituencies, such as the percentage of people who turn out and vote, you get people who are real political operators who have the edge on the man in the street."

Ladbrokes, for instance, cut the odds of the Greens winning in Brighton Pavilion from 5/1 to 5/6 after taking its single biggest election bet of the campaign so far.

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