The EU referendum will be the largest political betting market in history, with about £100m expected to be gambled on the outcome.
Around a third of those stakes are predicted to be placed when voters go to the polls on Thursday, as punters starved of any Euro 2016 matches – and top quality horse racing meetings – have a flutter on whether the UK decides to quit the EU or remain.
Matthew Shaddick, head of political betting at Ladbrokes, said: “This is the biggest non-sporting event the bookmaking industry has ever seen, with £100m expected to be wagered by the time the polling booths close on Thursday night. The EU referendum has overtaken last year’s general election and the Scottish independence referendum as the largest political betting event of all time.”
Rival William Hill said that of about £70m staked so far, around £20m is with traditional bookmakers and the bulk traded on betting exchanges such as Betfair, which said on Wednesday it had matched £45m of bets.
Industry insiders said the £20m figure puts the referendum in the ballpark of an England football match, the Epsom Derby and the Cheltenham Gold Cup – but miles behind the Grand National, where traditional bookmakers alone take around £150m.
The interest in betting on Thursday’s vote began early, with William Hill reporting that it took its first bet in 2013, when David Cameron first promised an in/out referendum if the Conservatives won the 2015 general election. One early punter staked £3 on remain at odds of 2-5 – meaning that if the UK votes for the status quo the gambler will win £1.20.
Other punters have gambled far larger stakes, however, with Ladbrokes taking a £35,000 bet on remain at 8-15 in its shop in Marble Arch and £20,000 on leave at 7-2 in Birmingham.
William Hill took £100,000 on remain at odds of 2-5 and another for £10,000 on leave at 11-4 – both bets from London-based women who had never bet before.
Coral added it had taken three bets of £10,000 in recent days – two in central London for leave and one in Stafford for remain.
While the opinion polls have repeatedly predicted a tight vote, the betting markets have consistently suggested that the remain camp is a clear favourite, with Betfair’s betting exchange suggesting that the chances of the UK staying in the EU stands at about 76%.
Gambling companies have argued that their markets are a better indicator of voting outcomes than the polls, as people are backing their judgement with their own money.
However, the betting firms failed to predict the outcome of the last general election and their markets work differently from voting as large bets cause bookmakers to move their odds. For the EU referendum, the majority of the money gambled has been for remain, but industry insiders said a large majority of individual bets have been placed on a vote to leave.
None of the big three high street bookmakers have said they would make large losses on either result, with William Hill making a “six figure” loss on a Brexit while Coral would end up paying out on remain.
Ladbrokes said it would make a small profit on either outcome, unless one side gains around 60% of the vote, in which case it would slip into the red.
Betfair spokeswoman Naomi Totten said: “Attention is now being drawn to the margin of victory for remain, with between 50.01% and 55% the favourite on the vote percentage market.”
Source: The Guardian