The curious world of long-term bets

By Kathryn Westcott
BBC News, Magazine


A bet placed on Wimbledon champion Roger Federer nearly a decade ago has netted more than £100,000 for Oxfam. But how popular are so-called future wagers?

Nine years ago, Nick Newlife made a wager of £1,520, at odds of 66/1, that Swiss tennis star Roger Federer would win seven Wimbledon titles by 2019.

Although his prediction proved to be accurate, Newlife didn't live long enough to enjoy his winnings. He died in 2009, leaving the betting slip to Oxfam in his will.

Newlife obviously had a penchant for this sort of gambling. A previous wager - that Federer would win 14 Grand Slam events - had cost the same bookmaker, William Hill, nearly £17,000. This was also paid out to Oxfam.

And on Monday, according to bookmaker Ladbrokes, a punter staked £10,000 at 4/1 for Andy Murray to win the Wimbledon title at some time in the future.

These kinds of future wagers are not new.

Image caption,
Despite losing on Sunday, one punter was still happy to bet on a future Wimbledon win

A bet was placed on Lewis Hamilton when he was only nine to win a Formula 1 Grand Prix race before the age of 23 (40/1), according to Ladbrokes. Another predicted he would win the World Drivers' Championship title before the age of 25. Odds of 150/1 netted winnings of £150,000.

Many a doting parent harbours dreams for their children. For some, the faith is so strong that they are happy to take a punt on future success.

So sure was Eddie Kirkland of his son Chris's talent, that in 1995 he and a number of family friends each placed a £100 bet at odds of 100-1 that the 12-year-old would one day play football for England.

Although the one-time Liverpool goalie was chosen for the England squad a number of times, it wasn't until 2006 that he finally came on to win his first cap.

Such stories can be manna to the press officers of the big bookmakers.

But plenty of bets that seem prescient in the medium term eventually fall flat.

In 1989, the father of Curtis Robb - once one of the world's leading 800m runners - bet £500 at 200/1 that his son would win an Olympic medal.

Three years later, as he prepared to compete in the 800m finals at the Barcelona Olympics, the odds had lengthened to 1000/1 due to the strength of the competition. There was no medal to be had at this Olympics or the following one in Atlanta, and Robb went on to retrain as a surgeon.

A particular type of long-time achievement bet - parents having a bet on their children achieving something in their life - has increased tenfold in the past five years, according to Ladbrokes.

"Parents betting on their children's future successes is as popular as betting on the final of the X Factor," says Jessica Bridge, from the firm.

"Parents love the idea that their child could be the next Tiger Woods or Lewis Hamilton. It can be quite costly for us when a child prodigy goes over and above all expectations."

The firm apparently receives thousands of such requests a year.

Image caption,
Many parents bank on the hope they have a sporting prodigy in the family

"We research each case on an individual basis, such as any family history, where they play their current sport. Before the child is age six we offer 1000/1 for them to play for England and 500/1 to play in the Premier League - both for football. After that they are worked out on an individual basis."

William Hill's Graham Sharpe says he has a "file full" of bets from people who reckon their children will eventually grow up to be something special.

"We prefer it if the child is only a few years old," says Sharpe. "It is safe to offer fairly lengthy odds as at that age, they have as much chance of being an athlete as an astronaut."

"The coaching in this country is such that most youngsters that show aptitude have been wrapped into the system at an early age. By and large it would be known if they have a relatively decent prospect of doing well."

But it's not all about sporting prowess, he says. Many parents will place bets that their children will pass a particular exam. And then there was the grandmother who thought her granddaughter so beautiful that she wagered she would grace the front cover of a leading fashion magazine.

"People do it for a variety of reasons," says Sharpe. "They are demonstrating that they have real faith in someone - have every confidence in them. The may be using it as an incentive. Or it could just be a bit of fun. Something to talk about, or put on the wall.

He says the most common bet is £20-£25 and people commonly do not go over £100.

Then there are those who take out long-term wagers on themselves.

Chris Kelly and Justin Tomlinson stand to collect £500,000 from William Hill should either become prime minister before 2038. Tomlinson placed two £50 bets at 10,000/1 when the pair were at university. Both are already Conservative MPs.

Never mind running the country - many people are just happy to live to be 100, and are prepared to take a bet on it.

"We subtract their current age from 100," says Sharpe and work out the odds accordingly. So, someone who is 80 will get odds of 20/1 that they will live long enough to receive a telegram from the Queen.

Bookmakers have to be more circumspect now that people are living longer.

"We have had bad experiences in the past, where we have had to pay out generously," says Sharpe.

And just the other week, someone placed a bet that they would live to be 110.

The odds of 1000/1 might sound tempting, but for most of us, that would be a future wager too far.