Gambling on the next pope of the Roman Catholic Church is on track to draw millions of dollars in bets and become the biggest non-sporting event in the history of Ireland's leading bookmaker Paddy Power, which said on Wednesday that America's Cardinal Sean O'Malley is now a "serious contender" for the papacy.
In an interview with The Christian Post on Wednesday, Paddy Power spokesman Rory Scott said even with stiff competition from the royal wedding and the expected royal baby from Prince William and the Duchess of Cambridge, pope betting is on track to set a record for betting on non-sporting event.
"We'd be comfortable saying it's a million dollar market and certainly it's on track to be the biggest non-sporting event in Paddy Power's history," said Scott. "I think pope betting has really captured people's imagination," he added.
And while Cardinal Peter Turkson of Ghana is the current frontrunner to succeed recently resigned Pope Benedict XVI with odds of 5/2, Boston's archbishop Cardinal Sean O'Malley's ranking in the race has made such astounding strides since betting began, Scott believes he is now a "serious contender". At the start of betting, O'Malley's odds for the papacy stood at 125/1 for 50th place. His current odds now stand at 25/1 for 12th place.
"That means one thing," said Scott. "We've seen more money for him – from starting life at 125/1 – that's a huge jump and the betting would now suggest he's a serious contender rather than an also ran," added Scott who noted that they expect the papal conclave to gather some time next Sunday or Monday to begin voting.
In a Boston Globe report on Wednesday, O'Malley, described as a shy personality, called for tougher measures to deal with abusive priests in the Roman Catholic Church. "There needs to be a path" for disciplining bishops, O'Malley told the Globe. "Right now, it's not terribly clear, but it's something the next pope will have to deal with." Bishops in the United States adopted a zero-tolerance policy on priests involved in sexual abuse ten years ago. "My point is always that if you don't have policies, you'll be improvising, and when you improvise, you make a lot of mistakes," he added in the interview.
According to the report, O'Malley has been avoiding questions about the possibility of him being a contender for the papacy. He is considered a longshot by Vatican experts, but if there is no consensus after a few days, some say his chances could improve.
And the betting is reflecting this speculation. "We've seen a lot of small bets coming in for him [O'Malley]. Perhaps they [bettors] know something that we don't know," Scott told CP.
When asked if he would change his "cappuccino robe" if he is elected pope, O'Malley said he had no plans to change his wardrobe. "I have worn this uniform for over 40 years, and I presume I will wear it until I die, because I don't expect to be elected pope," he told the Globe. Stammering slightly, he added, "so – I don't – expect to have a change of wardrobe."
According to Scott, the history of pope betting goes back some 500 years starting with Pope Leo X in 1513. The closest American in the rankings to O'Malley is New York's archbishop, Cardinal Timothy Dolan, who currently sits at 14th place.