Polar bears face stark odds, says bookmaker Paddy Power PLC

DUBLIN, Ireland ― Whatever the outcome of the Copenhagen climate conference, Ireland’s largest bookmaker is seeking to cash in on the effects of global warming.

Paddy Power PLC is offering odds that the global polar bear population will fall in the next two years, and that there will not be a white Christmas in Dublin — or in any other city in western Europe or America — this year.

“With the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen we thought the future polar bear population was a kind of newsworthy bet,” explained spokesman Paddy Power, son of the company’s founder. “We are next going to offer odds on carbon dioxide emissions.”

The World Wildlife Fund currently estimates that there are 22,000 polar bears in the world and that the numbers will decline because of the ice cover they need to survive will melt earlier in the year.

The bookmaker is offering odds of 13/8 that the polar bear population will fall to between 15,000 and 20,000 by the end of 2011.

In this Irish version of a bear market, climate change pessimists can get 8/1 that the number will actually drop below 15,000. “We have taken a handful of bets on line already,” said Power. “No one has bet on an increase.”

Speculating on a snowy Christmas in Dublin has become an annual event in Ireland, and a regular source of profit for the bookmakers.

“The definition of a white Christmas is a millimeter of snow at Dublin airport, like the frosting on your refrigerator,” explained Power, whose company has already taken €10,000 ($14,500) in small bets of snow falling on Dec. 25.

Ireland’s last official white Christmas was in 2004 and the prospect of snow on any given Christmas Day is usually pretty remote because of the warming influence of the Atlantic Ocean.
However this year it might not be a bad bet. The odds have shortened to 11/4 due to a cold air mass approaching Ireland from Russia.

Power also expects a flurry of new bets following the widely reported prediction on Monday by an amateur meteorologist that there will be unusually cold weather this winter.

Basing his forecast on observations of nature, Donegal postman Michael Gallagher said he believes there is a 90 percent chance that Ireland will have a white Christmas.

“The sheep and the cattle are going mad, shaking themselves, coming in off the mountains and coming to the gate,” said Gallagher who has a reputation for accurate forecasting.

“I noticed the other day, the fox is getting very busy, looking for hens and howling at two in the morning,” he told the Inishowen News. “There’s a hunger in everything, they want to be fed because they know what is coming.”

Still, Boston, Mass. at 4/6 or Chicago, Ill. at 8/11, might be a better bet for a Christmas snowfall.

Paddy Power plc will give odds on practically anything. A gambler can get 5/1 against the favorite, Cardinal Francis Arinze, becoming the next Pope, or 4/5 against Kraft taking over Cadbury’s chocolate makers by the end of the year.

Always a gambling nation, the internet has raised the betting stakes in Ireland to a new level; €3.6 billion was wagered last year on everything from a white Christmas (didn’t happen) to the name of Colin Farrell’s baby (it was Henry), an increase of €300 million on the previous year.

However Irish only need apply when it comes to online gambling. “It is an open market in Ireland, but we can’t take bets from U.S. citizens and we can’t accept U.S. credit cards because it is outlawed there,” said Power.

So, just for the record, the bookmaker is offering 11/10 that a Republican will win the next U.S. presidential election, and 5/1 that the candidate will be Sarah Palin. Paddy Power obviously expects the incumbent to get four more years as he is quoting 4/6 against a Democrat winning and 1/7 that the candidate will be Barack Obama.

A better bet might be the 14/5 he is offering against Buffalo Bills beating the New England Patriots in their football game on Dec. 22.