Just hours after Pope Benedict XVI’s surprising Feb. 28 resignation, bookmakers have already started placing odds on his successor.
Quickest off the mark was the Irish bookmaker Paddy Power, which has already gone through three favorites for the position, starting off with Nigerian Cardinal Francis Arinze, before shifting to Ghanaian Cardinal Peter Turkson and then to Canadian Cardinal Marc Ouellet — who at the time of this writing is the most favored option, with odds of 11 to 4. A rival bookie, Ladbrokes, currently has Turkson as the slight favorite at 3 to 1, followed by Arinze (7 to 2) and then Ouellet (4 to 1).
The 80-year-old Arinze is an Igbo Nigerian who spent 25 years in the Vatican and was once the world’s youngest bishop. The 64-year-old Turkson was appointed by the current Pope four years ago to become president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace — although he did spark controversy last year over a YouTube clip he screened at an international meeting of bishops on the rise of Islam in Europe. Ouellet is the Vatican’s main staff director, but unless he’s a master at political dissembling, the 68-year-old doesn’t seem to be actively pursuing the job. He has been quoted as saying that being Pontiff “would be a nightmare,” and told Quebec City’s Le Soleil newspaper that a Pope’s duties “are perhaps not very enviable,” with the responsibilities “crushing.”
Media-relations manager for Paddy Power, Feilim Mac An Iomaire, told TIME that the bookmaker had been prepared for Monday’s bombshell. “We’ve actually had betting on the next Pope for eight years, since Benedict was named,” he explains. “But now, the money has been absolutely flying in. We’re comfortably into five figures and that does have a massive effect on the odds.”
Paddy Power is in no doubt as to how seriously this is being taken by bettors. “We think it’s probably going to be the biggest nonsporting market we’ve ever had,” Mac An Iomaire says. “Last time out, we took over a million euros on the Pope betting back in 2005, and we’re expecting to at least exceed that this time around. And that really does put the U.S. presidency betting in the shade.”
At the longest of long shots, massive odds of 1,000 to 1 is available on U2 front man Bono stepping into Benedict’s red papal loafers. (Technically, any baptized Catholic male is eligible for the job, although historically the Pope has been chosen from among the College of Cardinals.) “I suppose the next step for him is either sainthood or to become Pope,” Mac An Iomaire says of the rock star and philanthropist. However, he adds, “he probably has a better chance of becoming a saint, to be honest.”