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Gambling With God: Staking A Wager On The Next Pope

Pope Benedict's  Farewell

(CNN) – The love of money may be the root of all evil according to the Bible, but that hasn’t stopped bookmakers from offering odds on who will emerge from the white smoke as the next pope.

At odds as low as 2-1, Cardinal Angelo Scola, the archbishop of Milan, is the bookmakers’ favorite to succeed Benedict XVI, who Thursday becomes the first pope to step down for almost 600 years.

Those betting an African will take the Catholic Church’s top job for the first time will be happy to hear Ghana’s Cardinal Peter Turkson is running a close second at 5-2, while Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the Vatican Secretary of State, is currently running third with odds of 7-2.

Claire Davies, a spokeswoman at Irish bookmaker Paddy Power, said more than £300,000 ($450,000) in bets on the next pope have been placed since Benedict’s resignation — and that’s before the papal conclave to choose the next church head has even started.

“It’s our biggest non-sporting event of the year,” Davies told CNN, “and we expect the betting to really pick up as we head towards the conclave.”

Canadian Cardinal Marc Ouellet and Italian Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco round out Paddy Power’s top five — and though betting on the next pope is illegal in the U.S., the Irish bookmaker is offering 33-1 odds on Cardinal Timothy Dolan, America’s top Catholic.

But Vatican insiders aren’t the only prospective pontiffs punters can wager on in the hopes that a puff of white smoke will finally put their bank accounts into the black.

Davies says nine more bets have been placed on Father Dougal Maguire — the dimwitted fictional priest from Irish television sitcom “Father Ted” and a 10,000-1 underdog — than for Claudio Hummes, a Brazilian cardinal who also has the added benefit of being a real person.

Paddy Power says it has also drawn 20 bets at 1,000-1 that U2 singer Bono will be the next pope, and another five on Richard Dawkins, the famously outspoken atheist and scientist, at an ominous 666-1.

The bookies’ odds aren’t necessarily the best indicator of who the next pope will be. According to Davies, Benedict was 20-1 after his predecessor’s death in 2005 before rising to 6-1 at the start of the conclave — “up with the favorites, but not a nailed-on certainty.”

While the next pope will almost certainly be chosen from among the cardinals set to attend the conclave at the Vatican within the next few weeks, technically any practicing Catholic can be elected to lead the church.

So if you’re feeling lucky, there’s already one former leader living in Italy who has spare time on his hands. Three-time ex-premier Silvio Berlusconi may be an underdog — but at 2,500-1, at least there’s a chance.

By Nick Thompson

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