All bets are off in Quebec as to whether a local becomes the next pope.
The provincial lottery commission says it will not follow the lead of some foreign gambling houses that allow people to place bets on who might inherit St. Peter's throne. The organization isn't swayed by the fact that a fellow Quebecker, Cardinal Marc Ouellet, just so happens to be among the top picks according to bookmakers.
While Loto-Quebec recently branched out beyond sports gambling by introducing betting on the upcoming Oscars, a spokesman said Wednesday it has no plans to get into religion.
"Loto-Quebec has no intention to offer betting on the identity of the next pope," said spokesman Jean-Pierre Roy. "I don't think that's what people would expect from a government organization."
Mr. Roy said sports gambling has been a fixture since the early 1990s. In recent weeks, the corporation has been testing the waters on betting on the Oscars, and Mr. Roy says it will only know after the Feb. 24 ceremony whether it was a hit. The Atlantic Lottery Corp. was the first to announce it would offer Oscar betting this year.
"But betting on a religious event, we're not sure that would be the best way to go," Mr. Roy said.
Since Pope Benedict XVI's surprise announcement on Monday that he will step down on Feb. 28, Quebeckers have weighed in on whether Cardinal Ouellet could be next in line. Mr. Ouellet, the 68-year-old native of La Motte, Que., was named a cardinal in 2003. In 2010 he was made head of the powerful Congregation for Bishops, which vets bishop nominations worldwide.
"The fact that a Quebec cardinal is in the running of course increases the [interest], and people may be asking whether we'll offer it [betting] or not," Mr. Roy said. "But we've done our thinking here and we have no intention of offering betting on such an event."
Some foreign bookmakers have jumped into the fray, however, with Irish-based Paddy Power installing him as favourite at 7-2.
A spokesman for that oddsmaker says Mr. Ouellet has been popular in the last few days among its customers, who are based in the United Kingdom and Ireland.
"He's doing quite well, he's been well-backed and he's been our favourite for the last 36 hours," said Felim Mac An Iomaire. "He's very fancied at the minute."
Gambling on the papacy might be considered extremely distasteful by people of faith, but it certainly is not a new practice.
Pope Gregory XIV became so irate at the practice that he issued a papal bull threatening excommunication for anyone who bet on certain Vatican affairs. That was in 1591.
While gambling isn't spelled out in the Bible as wrong, scholars note it goes against several principles of the faith itself.
In the end, it will be the cardinals who will elect the next pope during the conclave in the Sistine Chapel. It is expected to begin in mid-March.
Mr. Mac An Iomaire said his company actually took bets on the last papal election, which culminated with Pope Benedict winning in 2005.
With a pontiff firmly in place before Monday's surprise announcement, the betting on who would replace the current Pope was pretty stagnant. That all changed earlier this week.
"Our odds were already there and ready-made but what we found was as soon as the resignation was announced … it has absolutely exploded in the last 48 hours," he said.
Mr. Mac An Iomaire said Paddy Power has taken in well over 100,000 euros ($135,000) in bets and is quietly forecasting the papacy election to be the company's biggest ever non-sporting event.
In 2005, the company said punters bet one million euros on the race to become pope.
Mr. Mac An Iomaire said it could surpass such events such as the U.S. presidential election and reality program X-Factor, a hugely popular talent show in Britain that is of interest to non-sports bettors.
"From the level of interest we've had from this market, it's pretty clear that people want to bet on the papal election," he said.