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No more wagers on Greek exit

A bookmaker takes a bet.

Kai Ryssdal: There are, in this world, very few sure things. But if I were a bettin' man, I'd be tempted to lay down a couple bucks that Greece will be the first country to leave the eurozone.

Sadly, that bet got harder to make today. Both Ladbrokes and William Hill, the two big London bookmakers, have suspended that particular bet. Seems it was just too much of a sure thing.

We've called Graham Sharpe at William Hill. Mr. Sharpe, good to have you with us.

Graham Sharpe: Thank you.

Ryssdal: So how tight were the odds when you suspended betting on Greece being the first to leave the eurozone?

Sharpe: Well, that point, if you wanted to have the bet that the Greeks would exit first from the eurozone, you would win your stake of, let's say, four euros, $4, 4 pounds -- a profit of just one. You would obviously get the four back as well. What you would call in betting "parlance," a pretty warm favorite, if not necessarily a red-hot one.

Ryssdal: Why did you suspend the betting? It sort of makes sense, 'cause if anybody's going to leave they are. But aren't you guys experts in setting these odds?

Sharpe: Well yes, and this market's been open for some while. And at this point, all we were being asked to take were bets for Greece to be the first to go. And so, we've got a situation that's volatile and difficult to keep up with and you don't have representation on the ground, as we don't there. Things can change quite quickly, and if you're not aware of them, then you might be offering a particular betting price, which as far as you're concerned, is quite reasonable. But as far as people who know a little bit more than you, it's virtually the equivalent of giving away free money on Christmas Day.

Ryssdal: Yeah, which is bad for business.

Sharpe: It's certainly not the way your ideal bookmaker would like to drop out and ensure that they'll still be business in the years to come.

Ryssdal: Yeah, there's not a lot of upside. But I mean, you can see how you set these odds on a football match or a cricket or American football -- or even straight-up politics. But how do you figure out the odds for something that's never happened before?

Sharpe: Well, you make a good point. And that is part of the profession, isn't it? Basically, putting out your own opinion, we try to rub off the angles and edges of either end of the opinion, so you end up with somewhere in the middle, which you think you can go to war with. If you're then unable to make a market at all, suspend the book as we've done until such time as the waters calm down a little bit.

Ryssdal: Now you have another -- or you had I suppose -- another bet along these lines, whether the euro would still be around in -- what, I guess three years or so, right? And you stopped betting on that one as well.

Sharpe: Yes, we opened the market in 2010 as to whether the euro would still be around at the end of 2015. But obviously, should Greece exit or any other country, that could then lead to mass evacuation of several countries. And all of a sudden, it looks less and less likely that the euro would then be in place. So that's a related bet. So when we closed the market on Greece, we also closed or suspended for the time being the market on the future of the euro.

Ryssdal: You pay your money, you take your chances. Graham Sharpe at William Hill, the bookmaker in London. Thank you so much.

Sharpe: You're more than welcome.

About the author

Kai Ryssdal is the host and senior editor of Marketplace, public radio’s program on business and the economy.
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