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Anyone care to wager on Russian politics?

Putin still in the running, say the oddsmakers

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The high-stakes game that is Russian politics is now available for all to play online.

The odds on who will be Russia's next President have come out the internet, and, perhaps not too surprisingly, Vladimir Putin is still one of the favorites, despite a constitutional prohibition against a third term.

According to Reuters, Ireland-based betting exchange Intrade has Putin contracts currently running third, listing at 15 out of a possible value of 100. The current leader is First Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov at 41, with fellow First Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Medved trading at 17.

Unibet, the leading Swedish fixed-odds outfit, has Ivanov the favorite at 2.2 to one, and Medved at 3.75 to one.

The idea that betting markets can predict the outcome of events more effectively than opinion polls is a controversial one, though in this case the opinion polls and the futures contracts run to some degree parallel. Both have Ivanov and Medved running one and two, although the substantive differences between polls and wagers make comparisons somewhat difficult. Although in theory gambling should result in a more accurate prediction, based on the well-grounded assumption that people are more serious when they put their money where their mouth is, the differences between the results of a poll and the listings on a futures market such as Intrade may not be as clear-cut as they may seem at first glance.

The problem with comparing a poll to the contracts on a gambling market is that they typically ask different questions. A elections contract such as those offered on Intrade concerns who will win; a poll simply asks whom the respondent plans on voting for. Depending on the political institution at stake, those two can seem farther apart than they really are. For example, in an American presidential election, a difference of a few percentage points in the popular vote can result in an electoral college landslide, implying that very different results between a futures market and a poll can both be very accurate.

Intrade has Ivanov trading at roughly 1.4 times the value offered by Unibet, though some of the difference there reflects the rake collected by the house in fixed-odds gambling - exchanges typically offer better odds to punters for that very reason.

No word yet on how Polonium 210 futures are trading.®

Burke Hansen, attorney at large, heads a San Francisco law office

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