The good news is that there are some opportunities to make a couple bucks arbitraging papal candidates on InTrade. The bad news is that if you try this, you will be arrested, then damned to eternal hellfire.
The arrests will come from the US government, who continue to ban prediction markets in order to, according to the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, “protect market integrity”. To me this sort of seems like a case of locking the barn door after the horse has fled, traveled to Boston, been accepted to MIT, earned a degree in high energy physics, constructed a revolutionary FTL drive, and warped to the outer fringes of the Andromeda Galaxy – but such is the noble and impartial majesty of the law.
The damnations will come from the Vatican. In 1591, Pope Gregory XIV issued a papal bull banned all betting on papal elections under pain of excommunication. This has never really been enforced, but as far as I know it’s still in effect.
Luckily not everyone is afraid of Pope Gregory, and the Papal betting markets continue to function. As one would expect of something at the intersection of Catholicism and gambling, the most significant are in Ireland, especially at paddypower.com, which is offering odds on candidates as unlikely as Richard Dawkins, Bono, and Father Dougal Maguire – who, as you may recall, is fictional.
PaddyPower is also significant for their special bonus offer to refund all losing bets if the next Pope is black. There’s about a 1/3 chance this will be the case – two black cardinals are considered likely candidates – which means it should in theory be possible to come out ahead on net by betting on the leading white guy.
I can think of more complicated plans to get guaranteed free money by getting several people together to bet on all the leading white guys, plus hedging against InTrade’s market that the next Pope will be African, but the maximum refundable bet on PaddyPower is 25 pounds, making this more trouble than it’s worth, which I guess is what the betting markets are counting on.
Another so-close-yet-so-far route to free money is betting on the next Pope’s name. PaddyPower gives even odds in favor of the next Pope’s name being Pope Peter II, which is of course ridiculous. Unfortunately, I don’t see any way to bet against this proposition, which is probably by design.
If InTrade set up a next papal name betting market, that would allow much better calculation of these Peter II odds. Unfortunately, as an American I can’t easily bet in InTrade, and the only person I know who’s done the necessary paperwork to avoid the civil authorities, Leah, is also the only person I know who will be genuinely deterred by Pope Gregory XIV’s papal bull.
I continue to think there ought to be some way to money-pump this “next Pope” thing, but I can’t figure out what it is.