Music Matters
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Britain's Bookies: Odds Are U.K. Will Stay In EU

The latest polls on the United Kingdom's vote to stay in or leave the European Union show a slight rise for the Remain camp. Most, however, agree that Thursday's referendum is still too close to call. Such uncertainty has surrounded the entire Brexit debate – with one exception.

Britain's bookies say the smart money is on Remain.

"At the moment, Remain is the odds-on favorite at 1 to 4, so that equates to about a 76 percent chance of the U.K. voting to remain in the EU," says Jessica Bridge, spokeswoman for Ladbrokes, one of the U.K.'s larger betting firms.

The Leave side, meanwhile, "is drifting like a barge," she says, with the odds 3 to 1 against. Or if you prefer another sporting metaphor, "it's starting to fall at the final hurdle, you could say," she adds.

At the Ladbrokes betting parlor in central London, speakers crackle with the call of a dog race as sports coverage emanates from several flat-screen monitors on the walls. Such shops can be found all over Britain, in addition to a growing online betting industry.

As to why people seem to trust the bookies more than the pollsters on the EU referendum, it's partly to do with comfort level.

The American sportswriter Heywood Broun may have said, "The urge to gamble is so universal and its practice so pleasurable that I assume it must be evil."

But Britons don't find it so – they love to bet, and it doesn't much matter on what.

"It's ingrained in British culture," says Bridge. "What color hat the queen will wear at Royal Ascot, whether there'll be snow on Christmas Day, people will pretty much bet on everything," she says.

Big Money On Political Bets

Political betting used to be a much smaller niche market, but not anymore.

"Brexit is booming," says Bridge. "We're on course right now, across the U.K. bookmaking industry, to see 100 million pounds ($147 million) wagered on the EU referendum."

To put that in perspective, that's more than would be wagered on a major British sporting event such as Wimbledon.

It hasn't helped the pollsters that they've had two rather embarrassing outings recently.

In the 2014 Scottish independence referendum, pollsters called it a toss-up while oddsmakers correctly predicted a Scottish vote to remain part of the U.K.

In last year's parliamentary elections, both the pollsters and the bookies missed the size of the Conservative Party majority, but the bookies were closer.

With Thursday's vote looming, the longer odds are attracting small bettors to the Leave side, but Bridge says if money talks, the message is clear.

"The big boys are really out in force for Remain," she says. "We took a bet of 25,000 pounds (nearly $37,000) Monday, and one last week for 35,000 (over $52,000), so you can see there's a vast difference."

None of which guarantees that Remain will win the day Thursday. That's why they call it gambling.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit

Peter Kenyon is NPR's international correspondent based in Istanbul, Turkey.