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Unusual burst of bets preceded Rishi Sunak’s election announcement

Unusual burst of bets preceded Rishi Sunak’s election announcement

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An unusual burst of bets on a July poll preceded Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s announcement of the UK general election, according to an analysis of public market data by the Financial Times.

The data from Betfair Exchange adds to growing concerns about political insiders gambling on the timing of the July 4 poll.

The bets included several thousand pounds wagered on the day before the May 22 announcement, when the odds implied a less than 25 per cent chance of an election being called for July.

Altar had for months said he expected the election to take place in the second half of 2024, but had not specified a date. Most political observers assumed that he would opt to call an election in the autumn.

The betting scandal enveloping Sunak’s struggling campaign intensified on Thursday when the party confirmed that Tony Lee, the Conservative director of campaigning, had taken a leave of absence.

His wife Laura Saunders, the Tory candidate for Bristol North West, is under investigation by the Gambling Commission over gambling on the timing of the election.

Labour is seeking to capitalise on the scandal, with Sir Keir Starmer, the party’s leader, calling for Saunders to be suspended as a candidate.

“It’s very telling that Rishi Sunak has not already done that. If it was one of my candidates they’d be gone and their feet not have touched the floor,” Starmer said on Thursday.

Craig Williams, Sunak’s closest parliamentary aide, has already acknowledged placing a £100 bet on the election date three days before it was announced.

A police officer assigned to protect the prime minister was arrested on Monday for allegedly making a similar bet.

The UK’s major bookmakers declined to comment on the issue, citing a Gambling Commission probe into potential misconduct.

The commission says it is “investigating the possibility of offences concerning the date of the election”, but has declined to give further details.

Using the Betfair Exchange data, the FT found that £5,900 had been bet on a July election prior to May 20, two days before the shock announcement by Sunak.

On May 20 itself, a further £689 was wagered, with £398 coming in one bet, posted in the mid-afternoon at odds that would have netted the unknown punter a £2,784 profit.

On the morning of May 21, Lord Daniel Finkelstein, a Conservative peer, told Times Radio he had picked up “a bit of talk in government circles” that a July election could be on the cards, though he still believed it would happen in the autumn.

A further £5,483 was wagered that day, including some large bets.

At midday, a bet was placed for £830 at odds that should deliver a £5,800 profit. An £850 bet, made at 4pm, should deliver an expected £2,562 profit.

These were the largest bets placed on the market to that point, and were twice as large as the next largest. Before May 20, only two bets had come in above £200.

Anyone who had been able to get in ahead of the crowd stood to make handsome profits from less privileged punters: the odds on the morning of May 21 implied that there was only a one-in-eight chance of a July election.

By the next morning on May 22, it had drifted up to one in five as rumours started to swirl through Westminster. By midday, the implied chance had soared to 50 per cent and closed in on 98 per cent by 5pm, when Sunak made his rain-soaked election announcement.

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