Odds Are On The Bookies


Consider the serendipity of a poker machine induced political showdown, looming on a nation of … mad punters.

As a wager-worthy spectator sport, the always popular two flies climbing up a wall have got nothing on what’s going on in Australian politics presently. Indeed, gambling on the political combinations that might bring Prime Minister Gillard’s Government undone seem endless.

Independent crossbenchers, capable of who knows what? Misbehaving backbenchers, capable of … we’d probably rather not know; not to mention carbon tax, mining tax, faceless men, Malaysian/East Timor/PNG solutions, a war in Afghanistan. The PM’s got more obstacles to negotiate than something going over the jumps on Oakbank Cup day. And the finishing post is still two years away.

Paul Keating once described politics as "the only game in town". And so, this being Australia, the bagmen have quickly thrown down the old tarpaulin and started screaming the odds over the parliamentary din.

For all the frenzied political commentary of recent months then, what do the betting markets have to say?

Whenever the starter may let them go, the Coalition is favourite to take out the main race at the short price of $1.11 (Betfair), with the Government at much longer odds, anything up to $4.25 (Luxbet). Nothing ground breaking there, but it’s in perusing the exotics that things get really interesting.

Both Julia Gillard ($1.50 at Luxbet) and Tony Abbott ($1.25 at Sportingbet) seem relatively secure in their respective jobs until after the election it would seem. But the punters are having a dabble at increasingly shorter odds that someone might just burst through the pack in the final furlongs and cut down the leaders.

For the Coalition, the one sitting one-out and one-back is Malcolm Turnbull, and he’s as short as $2.90 on Betfair. The only other hope under-tens is Joe Hockey who is being claimed in the ring for anything up to $8.00 (Sportingbet and Centrebet). At longer odds are a bevy of outside contenders, all the way out to maiden runner Wyatt Roy at $201.00 (Centrebet).

It’s an open betting market on the government side with Bill Shorten and old campaigner Simon Crean on the first line of betting at prices ranging from $2.60 at Betfair to $5.00 at Sportingbet with much spruiking in between.

You can get as much as tens for Stephen Smith and Greg Combet, with previous on-course winner Kevin Rudd a couple of points longer again. After being closer to the lead division early, Wayne Swan has drifted out to $41.00 on Luxbet and  Sportingbet.

At first glance, some good news for the Government can be found in the betting pool covering its capacity to go the distance. The price on a 2011 election date has blown out to $3.50.

However, a closer inspection might not give it much cause for comfort. The shortest price option, a firming $2.30, predicts an election in the first six months of 2012. This is counter posed by $4.00 for the government going full term (sometime during the six months to 31 December 2013), or close to full term (the six months to 30 June 2013) at $12.00.

So, like an Australian version of Delphi’s old Oracle, the betting markets would seem to foresee, despite some jostling, the respective party leaders staying in the saddle until the next election, more likely than not to be run in the first half of next year.

But a word of caution. Those familiar with Banjo Patterson’s take on the betting ring will remember his famous Oracle At The Races, a comic sketch of all that is good and bad in the Australian punter. Patterson’s moral was that you wouldn’t trust the Oracle to pick a daisy, let alone a winner.

With Patterson’s caveat as a reality check, a close look at political betting markets can tend to yield more than a few nuggets. Indeed, some ratings agencies now offer a pre-election interpretation of the odds across swathes of electoral divisions, with corresponding analysis not entirely unlike the psephologist’s.

Whether it constitutes an exercise in the objective or objectionable, one thing’s for certain: whatever the twists and turns facing Australian politics presently and to come, the bookies have got all bets covered.

Note: Prices are as quoted on www.sportspunter.com and www.way2bet.com.au and current at time of publication.

Launched in 2004, New Matilda is one of Australia's oldest online independent publications. It's focus is on investigative journalism and analysis, with occasional smart arsery thrown in for reasons of sanity. New Matilda is owned and edited by Walkley Award and Human Rights Award winning journalist Chris Graham.