LONDON (AP) — Bettors looking for a wager with a fancifully high payoff last summer could have gone into their local betting shop in England and risked a bit of cash on the proposition that Elvis Presley would be found alive and well.
Or they could have placed their money on a true longshot: The laughable idea that the lowly Leicester City soccer club would somehow surge to the top of the world-class English Premier League.
Elvis surfacing in good health was a 2,000-1 shot; the Foxes taking the top spot was rated even more unlikely, at 5,000-1.
The King of Rock and Roll is still buried on the grounds of his beloved Graceland, but the Foxes are on the verge of one of the greatest upsets in the history of modern sports. The impact of their astonishing run is already being felt by Britain's betting industry as the team closes in on the top spot, which they can clinch as early as Sunday with a victory over former powerhouse Manchester United.
Joe Crilly, spokesman for the William Hill betting chain, said the company will no longer casually offer such high odds in the face of an expected 10 million pounds ($14.6 million) industry loss that will be suffered this weekend or next if, as expected, the Foxes finish in first place.
"It's a big loss but it's not going to bankrupt us, thankfully," he said. "There will still be 5,000-1 shots from time to time, but we will certainly be a lot more careful if offering that price. Our company alone will be paying out 3 million pounds on Leicester City."
That loss will be slightly offset by profits made on bets on other English Premier League clubs to win, including perennial powerhouses like Manchester United and Chelsea that have fallen on hard times.
But still. The reality of paying 100,000 pounds ($146,000) each to the handful of people thought to have placed 20 pounds ($29) on the Foxes is galling to the firm's bean counters, said Crilly.
"Doom? Maybe not," he said. "But certainly a few people feel sick about it."
The Paddy Power chain said it faces its biggest Premier League payout ever.
"In hindsight, we were idiots offering odds of 5,000-1," the company said in a statement. In contrast, a bet that President Barack Obama would admit the moon landings had been faked was seen by the company as 10 times more likely.
Betting firms say some people are holding 20 pound bets on Leicester City, with reports that some may have 50-pound tickets that would pay 250,000 pounds ($365,300). Academy Award winning actor Tom Hanks last week said he had put 100 pounds on the Foxes (the payoff would be half a million pounds) but industry professionals think he was joking. No one reports hearing of a bet that large.
One person kicking himself is longtime Leicester City fan John Micklethwait, the editor-in-chief of Bloomberg News, who for nearly 20 years dutifully placed a 20-pound bet on the Foxes to finish atop their league. Having moved from London to New York, he skipped the wager this year, missing out on what is expected to be the ultimate payoff.
In a rueful column , he pointed out that betting companies placed the chances of Leicester City winning the Premier League as equal to the chances of U2 front man Bono becoming pope.
Carpenter Leigh Herbert has been more fortunate in his betting.
He placed a 5-pound bet on Leicester City before the season began and has already collected part of the dough (about 5,680 pounds or $8,300) when companies started trying to cut their losses by offering partial payouts. He cashed in 2 pounds of his wager.
He stands to collect the full amount (15,000 pounds or $21,900) on the final 3 pounds of his bet.
"I'm a fan, I wanted Leicester to win the league but I didn't in my wildest dreams think they would," he said. "It's been a roller-coaster. Now I'm excited, totally excited."
This version corrects the style on Leicester City and Foxes, and the date of 5,000-1 odds