Friday, February 23, 2018
Sports

Elvis alive or Leicester? Take the 5,000-1 odds

LONDON — Bettors looking for a wager with a fancifully high payoff last summer could have gone into their local betting shop in England and risked a bit of cash on the proposition that Elvis Presley would be found alive and well.

Or they could have placed their money on a true long shot: The laughable idea that the lowly Leicester City soccer club would somehow surge to the top of the English Premier League.

Elvis surfacing in good health was a 2,000-1 shot; the Foxes taking the top spot was rated even more unlikely — 5,000-1.

The King of Rock 'N' Roll is still buried on the grounds of his beloved Graceland, but the Foxes — 14th on the 20-team league last season and never English league champions — are on the verge of one of the greatest sports upsets ever. The impact of their astonishing run is already being felt by Britain's betting industry as the team closes in on the top spot, which they can clinch as early as today with a victory over traditional power Manchester United.

Joe Crilly, spokesman for the William Hill betting chain, said the company will no longer casually offer such high odds in the face of an expected $14.6 million industry loss, assuming Leicester clinches in its three remaining games.

"It's a big loss but it's not going to bankrupt us, thankfully," he said. "There will still be 5,000-1 shots from time to time, but we will certainly be a lot more careful if offering that price."

The reality of paying 100,000 pounds ($146,000) each to the handful of people thought to have placed 20 pounds ($29) on the Foxes is galling to the firm's bean counters, Crilly said.

"Doom? Maybe not," he said. "But certainly a few people feel sick about it."

The Paddy Power chain said it faces its biggest Premier League payout ever. "In hindsight, we were idiots offering odds of 5,000-1," the company said in a statement. In contrast, a bet that President Barack Obama would admit the moon landings had been faked was seen by the company as 10 times more likely.

Betting firms say some people are holding 20 pound bets ($29) on Leicester City, with reports that some might have 50-pound tickets that would pay 250,000 pounds ($365,300).

One person kicking himself is longtime Leicester City fan John Micklethwait, the editor-in-chief of Bloomberg News, who for nearly 20 years dutifully put a 20-pound bet on the Foxes to finish atop their league. Having moved from London to New York, he skipped the wager this year, missing out on what is expected to be the ultimate payoff.

In a rueful column, he pointed out that betting companies placed the chances of Leicester City winning the Premier League as equal to the chances of U2 singer Bono becoming pope.

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