Liverpool, the soccer club that last season had its worst Premier League performance in 11 years, is attracting gamblers for the new campaign.
Even after finishing seventh, the team is being backed by the highest number of bettors at U.K. and Irish bookmakers. The season starts Aug. 14, with Liverpool hosting Arsenal a day later.
An 18-time winner of England’s top league, Liverpool has attracted about a fifth of the total number of bets made with Ladbrokes Plc and Paddy Power Plc, the bookmakers say. At 12-1 the Reds are the fifth favorite to win the league, so a successful 1-pound ($1.58) bet would bring in 12 pounds plus the original stake.
“All fans are optimistic, and then there are Liverpool fans,” Paddy Power spokesman Darren Haines said in a telephone interview. “The eternal optimists who always think it’s going to be their year. It’s been a long time since Liverpool has been 12-1. They may also be tempted by the takeover rumors.”
The five-time European champion, which last won the domestic league in 1990, failed to qualify for this season’s Champions League and is the subject of media speculation about a possible takeover.
A change of ownership before the end of August could hand new manager Roy Hodgson tens of millions of pounds to bolster his squad. He’s already added Joe Cole and retained Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres amid speculation they might leave.
“Punters are tipping Liverpool to turn the corner with Roy Hodgson,” Ladbrokes spokesman Nick Weinberg said.
Ahead of Liverpool in Ladbrokes’ odds are defending champion Chelsea, the favorite at 13-8, Manchester United (9-4), Manchester City (5-1) and Arsenal (6-1).
Of the “realistic contenders,” Arsenal alarms Paddy Power the most.
“In terms of money, it’s significantly more than anyone else. They are probably the realistic team that we currently fear the most,” Haines said. To date, the club has attracted the company’s largest bet, with 4,500 pounds ventured at 6-1.
A Liverpool triumph would be Ladbrokes’ worst result. “We’re quite happy laying them at 12-1 but that’s not to say we wouldn’t get a bit nervy if they start quite well,” Weinberg said. The club carries the bookmaker’s largest bet at 10,000 pounds, which could cost it 120,000 pounds.
A title-winning season for Liverpool’s city rival Everton is currently the worst-case scenario for Paddy Power, although at 150-1 the company is “quite comfortable with that,” Haines said.
Betting for this season has been “well up” on last year for Paddy Power with the emergence of Tottenham Hotspur (33-1) and Manchester City, fourth and fifth last season, making the market more competitive. The two sides meet at White Hart Lane in London in three days.
Both Ladbrokes and Paddy Power expect a large increase in bets, particularly on Manchester United and Chelsea, as the week progresses. A growth in football bets is partially offsetting a decline gambling on horseracing, which attracts the largest proportion of bettors, said Greg Johnson, an analyst for Liverpool-based Shore Capital Group.
“It’s a bit of a struggle out there, it’s certainly sluggish,” Johnson said in a phone interview. “I would have thought that they would be looking to the football season with some excitement.”
The Premier League is becoming more surprising with those at the top becoming weaker, Johnson said. “You’re more likely to get more draws and less predictable results, which is how the bookies make the money.”
Houses Painted Orange
Premiership newcomer Blackpool has the longest odds in the league at 5,000-1. Earlier this week, just 51 bets had been placed with Paddy Power on the Lancashire team, known as the Seasiders or Tangerines because of their orange jerseys.
“It would be our second-worst result after Everton” if Blackpool were to win the league, Haines said. “I’m not sure who these 51 people are but I suspect their houses are painted orange.” The largest bet on Blackpool is 10 pounds, resulting in a payout of 50,000 pounds if it finishes first.
Home loyalties often sway bettors living in the area of newly promoted teams, such as Blackpool, Newcastle United and West Bromwich Albion.
“You’ll see punters in that particular area come in and have a pound on their side” to win the title, Weinberg said. “Just to say that they’ve done it and then go show their mates down the pub.”
The same can’t be said for 1,000-1 shot Bolton Wanderers, who have elicited the lowest level of interest from Paddy Power customers. The “almost invisible man of the Premier League,” also based in Lancashire, has attracted five bets, Haines said.