Adrian Eastwood told Slugger this morning that his company has taken 10s of thousands of pounds backing Northern Ireland’s political parties. The big money is following three DUP candidates: David Simpson (Upper Bann); Willie McCrea (South Antrim); and Jimmy Spratt (South Belfast). These are often joined in accumulator bets with lower priced Sammy Wilson and Conor Murphy of Sinn Fein. So, to an extent, betting is an apolitical activity.Aside from a single punt of £2500 for the UUP (to take more than three seats), there’s no substantial money backing David Trimble’s party. And in Strabane a Derry punter put £5000 on Mark Durkan to bring his price down to 11/10 is the biggest sign of anyone backing the SDLP.
There’s no way of knowing if the money comes from within the party – but suspicion must be strong. Brian Feeney confessed at Slugger Live! the other night to once having bropught down his odds to 8/1, just by walking into a small bookie’s shop and flashing the money at the window!
Adrian Eastwood is a little coy about the idea that bookies know better than polls or punters. “I get a bit of advice here and there, and of course you have a few ideas of your own”. In Foyle he thinks it’s almost too close to call: “it was a take your pick year, but I’ve gone with Sinn Fein partly because they are so good at getting their people out”.
But, unusually for Sinn Fein supporters, they are not backing their party down at the bookies this year. Adrian thinks there could be several reasons. “Maybe it’s because they’ve recognised the controversy over the last few months, and are just keeping things quiet. Or maybe they are just too busy out on the doorsteps, concentrating on getting their people out”. And of course, with all Sinn Fein MPs expected to be returned, and Conor Murphy clear favourite in Newry and Armagh, there’s just no margin in it for them.
Eastwoods probably had their best PR year (and worst in terms of payouts) in 1983, the year Gerry Adams won West Belfast for the first time. Adrian: “All the people in the black taxis were coming in and putting money on him. We took tens of thousands just on that one bet. There was so much money that the whole of west Belfast must have backed him”.
In his victory speech at City Hall acknowledged that support: “On behalf of all the people of West Belfast, thank you Mr Eastwood”.
Will the DUP punters have cause to be so grateful this time out? Or will the man with the £2500, be that much better off? We’ll only know when the count is complete this day next week.
Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty