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February 23, 2022

Bookies take bets on which dictators will be ousted next

Let’s call one thing like it is: for most Canadians, we don’t know what to think about all this mess in the Middle East and Northern Africa.

Istockphoto_5091092-flag-of-libya It’s not that we don’t care. Certainly, we’re Canucks, for crying out loud – we’re the most compassionate people on earth. It’s just that, for the most part, we don’t really know enough about the Mubaraks and the Gadaffis of the world to form a sound opinion.

Of course, since Egypt ousted its ruler earlier this month, that doesn’t mean we can’t bet on who will be next to go.

Yes, while the above sentence isn’t an endorsement for action, the political unrest across the Atlantic has nonetheless become the latest global happenings the online betting world is capitalizing on.

You’ve probably heard of these kind of bets – “prop” bets, as they’re known – from the Super Bowl. People put money on all kinds of things during the game, such as the over/under for how long Christina Aguilera would hold the “brave” at the end of the national anthem (she belted it out for a staggering 11 seconds, shattering the six second line set by oddsmakers).

And at a time when the Middle East and Northern Africa is literally crumbling, bookmakers take bets on the outcomes just the same.

For instance, InTrade, an Irish “prediction markets” site, takes trades based on the likelihood of other leaders of the region being toppled from power. So, currently InTrade shows there is an 78 per cent chance Muammar al-Gadaffi, the contested Libyan leader, will be out as ruler of the nation before midnight on Dec. 31, 2011. Gamblers can then “buy” that that result will happen, and get paid out accordingly based on the given odds. It’s like a futures market for political turmoil.

And it’s not just Gadaffi, either. Though the Libyan despot, according to InTrade’s odds, is most likely to go by the end of the year, there are also bets to be made that Bahrain Prime Minister Khalifa Bin Salman Al Khalifa (65 per cent likely), Yemen President Ali Abdullah Saleh (58 per cent likely) and Iran President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (18 per cent likely) will be gone by New Year’s Eve, too.

Sound absurd? It may be, but there is at least a little ingenuity behind InTrade’s efforts, if a lack of discretion. If this sort of thing is what you’d feel comfortable wagering on, there’s also strategy and gamesmanship to consider. InTrade betting isn’t like traditional betting, where you can either win, lose or tie and that’s it. Like a real futures market, your wager with InTrade is like a contract you can unload at any time.

So, let’s look at Gadaffi, since he’s the latest troubled leader to be plastered all over the news. As recently as Feb. 19, InTrade listed the likelihood the Libyan tyrant would be ousted from power by the end of 2011 at around 25 per cent, more than 50 points lower than it stands today. That means that, had you purchased the “Gadaffi will go” deal four days ago, you could “sell” your deal now that the threat he’ll be removed from power is at its greatest. Similarly, if the Libyan unrest settles over the next bit, your deal loses value like any stock or bond would. Buy low, sell high.

Let’s turn it over to our readers to comment on InTrade’s service here: should the political trials of an impoverished region be kept far from a point where anyone can profit, or do you think every outcome in the world – sports games, movie award shows, presidential term lengths – is fair game for betting?

By Jason Buckland, MSN Money



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Gordon PowersGordon Powers

A long-time fund company executive, Gordon Powers now heads up the Affinity Group, a financial services consulting firm. Gordon was a personal finance columnist for the Globe & Mail for many years, has taught retirement planning...

Jason BucklandJason Buckland

The modern-day MC Hammer of money, Jason can often be seen spending cash that isn’t his with the efficiency of a Wilt Chamberlain first date. After cutting his teeth as a reporter for the Toronto Sun, he joined the MSN Money team with...