William Hill Plc and other bookmakers gave better chances to finding Elvis Presley alive (2,000-1) or discovering the Loch Ness monster (500-1) than to Leicester City F.C. winning this season’s English Premier League soccer title. It won’t make that mistake again.
On Sunday, the Foxes of Leicester City could capture their first Premier League title in their 132-year history -- with early bets at 5,000-1 odds.
If the team’s core of unknown and journeyman footballers defeat 20-time champion Manchester United, William Hill would lose 2 million pounds ($2.9 million), according to company spokesman Rupert Adams. The bookmaker took 58 pounds in bets on Thai-owned Leicester City at odds of 5,000-1, and would have to pay out 750,000 pounds to gamblers who bet later in the season when the odds dropped to 1,500-1.
“We are going to lose 2 million quid when Leicester win it,” Adams said in a phone interview. “As it stands, the biggest price for anyone next year is 1,000-1.”
William Hill represents about 20 percent of the U.K. betting market, meaning a Foxes victory will cost bookmakers across the country about 10 million pounds, Adams said. And even celebrities could be getting a payout. Actor Tom Hanks this week said he bet 100 pounds on the Foxes, and now stands to win 500,000 pounds if Leicester City wins.
But the Leicester City Miracle isn’t all bad news for bookies. Until Christmas, the Foxes upset the odds week after week by beating teams they were supposed to beat -- and ruining several so-called accumulator, or parlay, bets in which gamblers select a slate of results over a weekend of games.
The market for preseason betting will also grow by as much as five times next season, said Alex Donohue, a spokesman for Ladbrokes Plc, which with William Hill operates half of the U.K.’s licensed betting shops. His company faces a similar 3 million-pound payout to bettors. Each company took about 1 million pounds worth of bets on the Premier League Title winners.
“Next year it will be colossal,” Donohue said. “Imagine if you support Bournemouth or Norwich or Crystal Palace, you’ll think if Leicester can do it why can’t we. I’m sure there will be incredible volume from next season.”
In Ladbrokes’ 130-year existence, the company has never paid out bets on odds of 5,000-1. The company accepted 47 bets at 5,000-1, and 23 of them are still live, with others deciding to cash out.
For William Hill, the bookmaker’s previous biggest payout was 125,000 pounds in 2013 -- to a man who bet 13 years earlier that his grandson would play for the Wales national soccer team. That player, Harry Wilson, was just 16 when he went on as a substitute in a game against Belgium.
“This is a genuine black-swan event,” Donohue said. “If you simulated the Premier League 5,000 times, Leicester should win it once. We’re not going to be around for another 5,000 Premier Leagues to see if that’s the case, but we stand by the fact that our odds-compilation process was correct and robust.”
The club is owned by Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha, the Thai founder of the King Power duty free company.