* Who will light Olympic flame is most popular bet so far
* Former rower Steve Redgrave odds-on favourite
* Report shows 73 percent of British adults gambled in 2010
By Belinda Goldsmith
LONDON, June 1 Would you bet on Queen Elizabeth
lighting the Olympic flame? Or a UFO appearing above the opening
ceremony? Or maybe on Usain Bolt winning the men's 100 metre
With the London Olympics fast approaching, Britons are
happily combining two of their favourite pastimes: sports and
betting - no matter how ludicrous some of the bets.
"It is deep in the British psyche to have a bit of a flutter
when it comes to sports. Sports and betting almost go
hand-in-hand in this country," said Joe Crilly, a spokesman from
bookmaker William Hill.
Less than two months away from kickoff, bookmakers are
starting to close their books on the most popular bet so far -
who will light the flame, the symbol of the Olympic Games, at
the opening ceremony on July 27.
The identity of the person who runs the final stretch with
the Olympic torch after a 70-day relay is always a highlight at
the opening extravaganza. China's former champion gymnast Li
Ning was awarded that honour in Beijing in 2008; at the Atlanta
1996 Olympics, legendary boxer Muhammad Ali lit the cauldron in
an emotional show as he struggled with Parkinson's disease.
Bookmakers William Hill, Ladbrokes, Stan James and Coral all
agreed the favourite for that coveted task in London, with odds
of 1-3, is former rower Steve Redgrave, 50, Britain's most
successful Olympian who won five gold medals from 1984 to 2000.
Bets were also running on the 83-year-old Roger Bannister,
who made history as the first man to run the four-minute mile in
1954; Kelly Holmes, the retired British runner who won two gold
medals at the 2004 Athens Olympics; and football star David
"We also took some bets on Tom Daley at 16-1, Prince William
at 66-1 and, incredibly, the queen at 500-1," said Stan James
spokesman Rory Jiwani.
BORIS HAIR ON FIRE?
William Hill has taken some bets on whether London Mayor
Boris Johnson would have a mishap when he runs with the Olympic
torch, setting his notoriously wild hair on fire, and has odds
of 5-2 on it raining on the night of the opening ceremony.
But spokesman Crilly said the weirdest bet yet was a 15
pound ($23) wager that a UFO would appear above the Olympic
Stadium on the night of the opening ceremony. The odds? A
massive payout at 1000-1.
"It is mainly Brits really getting into the spirit of things
as the Olympics draw closer and having fun," said Crilly. "Once
the torch arrived on these shores, we have seen people getting
involved in the Olympics and betting not just on novelty bets."
Bolt, the Jamaican sprinter and world record holder, is
currently the favourite with odds of 4-7 to win the Olympics
showpiece event, the men's 100 metre race, while fellow Jamaican
Yohan Blake is second favourite with odds of 3-1.
Most bookmakers were also running bets on which country
would top the gold medal table when the Olympics close on August
Coral spokesman David Stevens said the Olympics were not
usually a major betting event but interest was likely to be
higher at the London Games due to Britons' love of gambling.
The most recent independent report by the Britain's
government-sponsored Gambling Commission on gambling
participation showed that nearly three quarters of British
adults, or 73 percent, had gambled in 2010 compared to 68
percent in 2007.
The Association of British Bookmakers estimates that
bookmakers contribute 3 billion pounds ($4.62 billion) annually
to the UK economy, which is about 0.5 percent of gross domestic
"It will be the biggest Olympics in betting terms but this
is starting from a very low base," said Stevens.
"The Olympics are being held in a nation where betting is a
part of everyday life. The real activity will kick off in the
fortnight leading up to Games and then during the Games but
we're a bit in the dark over how much interest we will see."
($1 = 0.6497 British pounds)
(Editing by Alessandra Rizzo)