Betting on politics: when to sit on your hands

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Sometimes it’s better to watch from the sidelines

The market on whether Britain will leave the European Union on 29 March is currently Betfair’s biggest, with £2.9m already wagered. Until the end of last year punters were predicting that we would leave as planned, but Prime Minister Theresa May’s suggestion that MPs will get an opportunity to vote on whether to extend Article 50 has meant that the chances of a 29 March exit have drifted out even further to 6.2 (16.1%).

By contrast, the odds of the UK not leaving on the expected date are now as tight as 1.18 (84.7%). It’s clear that the prime minister faces an uphill struggle to get her deal through Parliament, and she may have to get a short-term extension anyway in order to get through the huge amount of additional legislation that needs to be passed.

However, there is always a chance that she could win enough concessions to allow the ERG group of Brexiteers and the DUP to back her and there are a few opposition MPs who are expected to back her, too. It’s important to remember that just before polls closed the betting markets were similarly certain of a Remain victory.

To be clear, I think that May’s deal will indeed be voted down, and the Article 50 deadline extended. However, I don’t think the odds are attractive enough to justify a bet either way. It’s always tempting to want to bet on a big event, but if you want to be a successful bettor, then sometimes you have to sit on your hands and look elsewhere.