Bookmaker Paul Petrie gives his thoughts on the biggest gamble in Scotland's history…
THE sight of a Ladbrokes shop on the high streets of Scotland is a very familiar scene but not many will know that if it wasn't for political betting then the company may no longer be in existence.
In 1963 Ladbrokes had a poor start to the year with a particularly bad result in the Grand National and were struggling with a lack of funds. Then, when the Profumo affair led to Harold Macmillian stepping down as Prime Minister, one of the directors suggested to the board owner that the firm made a book on the candidates for his successor.
Ron Pollard, who came up with the idea, admitted: “It took us off the sports pages and put us on the front pages, capturing the public's imagination. We had shown that everything was fair bet for a game."
There is no denying bookmakers still use political betting for PR purposes but nowadays it is also big business. William Hill reported that the 2010 General Election resulted in a record breaking £25million worth of turnover. And, whilst it is unlikely to reach those figures, Scottish independence is going to be big business for the bookies.
The main market that people will be betting on is whether Scots will vote Yes or No in the independence referendum. Prices range from 1/2 for a No vote to 5/2 for a Yes vote. Those prices actually mean you can back both Yes and No and make a guaranteed profit. More importantly, they also show that bookmakers, whilst favouring a No vote, are still very unsure over what the outcome will be - and that can only be good news for a betting man like Alex Salmond.
Indeed, Salmond will know he can already beat the odds. Amazingly, going into last year's Scottish Parliament elections, it was Labour that were the odds-on favourties at the start of 2011, and yet it ended with a landslide victory for the SNP.
Add in the fact that neither Ruth Davidson or Johann Lamont were the favourites for their respective leadership battles and, it is fair to say, that the bookies' prices shouldn't carry too much weight, as there is a long way to go in this debate.
That also means there are good opportunities to make money. There are a host of special markets on the go at the moment and there are sure to be even more closer to the time.
So, you can bet on whether 'devo max' will be an option on the ballot paper, or whether 16-17 year olds will get a vote. Unbelievably, you can also still get 1/3 that the referendum vote will be in 2014, which is surely buying money - unless David Cameron and the courts win that particular battle.
One thing is for certain though: in 300 years Scotland has never been closer to being an independent country. Since McBookie.com was formed in 2009, the odds of indepedence have tumbled from 40/1 to 6/4. In any form of betting that is a significant price movement. However, at the end of the day these odds mean nothing. The decision will be decided in the ballot box by the Scottish people.
Will they feel it is a gamble worth taking?
Paul Petrie is owner of Scottish bookmakers McBookie.com