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April 20, 2005

Online Gaming Sites Close Books On Pope



Courtesy of TechWeb.com

The election of Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger as Pope Benedict XVI was prophesied on several online betting sites, but, in horse racing parlance, Ratzinger had to make a furious stretch drive to cross the finish line first. Days before his historic election, there were several other cardinals ranked ahead of him.

Just a week before the telltale white smoke rose Tuesday from the Cardinals' meeting in the Vatican's Sistine Chapel, six cardinals were more highly favored on the gambling sites over Cardinal Ratzinger. But, as a consensus seemed to build in Rome and in the media, bets for the German prelate rose, too.

Internet wagering site Intrade.com crowed Wednesday that its customers had correctly placed their money on Ratzinger.

There was heavy betting on nine Italian cardinals, with Dionigi Tettamanzi a leading candidate for several days by bettors who believed the papacy would be returned to Italian leadership.

The site claiming the largest number of Pope bets was Ireland's Paddy Power. A spokesman for the site said Ratzinger was the favorite just before the final vote was taken.

Just days before the vote, British bookmakers William Hill, which operates a betting advice site, said Nigerian Cardinal Francis Arinze was attracting more votes than any other cardinal. Jean-Marie Lustiger was ranked second and Ratzinger, third. Vatican observers had believed no American cardinal had a chance due to anti-American sentiment.

Because online gambling is illegal in the U.S., many such sites are headquartered in the U.K. and Ireland. Many actual transactions are executed on servers in remote locations such as Antigua.

Next to the new pontiff himself, the biggest winner yesterday may have been a Florida man who purchased Internet naming rights to BenedictXVI.com. Rogers Cadenhead of Jacksonville, Fla., who has written several books on software, registered the Benedict address on April 1. Tuesday evening he saw his site inundated with hits.

Cadenhead said he had registered additional sites like PaulVII.com to cover his domain bets. JohnPaulIII.com was already taken. Soon after the announcement of Ratzinger's election, other domains were registered, including BenedictXVI.de, BenedictXVI.org, BenedictXVI.net and BenedictXVI.info.

With the Pope race completed, online gambling sites are returning to their normal offerings. Betting on the U.S. 2008 Presidential election is already underway at some sites.

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