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Smart money on acquittal in Jackson case

Online betting sites offering odds on outcoming of trial
/ Source: Reuters

Whether or not Michael Jackson’s jurors still have a reasonable doubt about his guilt, the wild world of Internet betting has rendered judgment: the smart money is on acquittal.

No longer limited to chats around the water cooler and late-night talk shows, speculation about the outcome of the Jackson trial has become a staple of online betting sites and trading exchanges.

With the trial in Santa Maria, Calif., nearing its end, online speculators believe the likelihood of an acquittal is higher than Jackson’s chances of being convicted.

On the Dublin-based Tradesports.com Web site, the odds of a conviction for at least one count of molestation were 43 percent on Monday. That means traders who buy a contract for $43 stand to win $100 if Jackson is convicted or to lose everything if he is acquitted.

“We know people are interested in this,” said Calvin Ayre, CEO of Costa Rica-based Bodog.com, which posts a similar betting line. “There are definitely good theatrics in a trial that swings people back and forth in their thinking. It’s not unlike a sporting event ... it’s just a longer, more drawn out variation of it.”

Jackson, 46, has denied charges he molested a 13-year-old boy in early 2003, gave the boy alcohol, and conspired to commit child abduction, false imprisonment and extortion. He faces more than 20 years in prison if convicted on all counts.

“Every day you hear what’s going on and see what’s in the paper, therefore it’s pretty easy to revise your opinion and sell before you lose it all,” said Emile Servan-Schreiber, chief executive of NewsFutures.com, where traders speculate without wagering money.

Selling Jackson shortThe market in the Jackson case has fluctuated, with the odds of a conviction climbing and plunging as the prosecution and defense, respectively, began their cases.

Berend de Boer, a Dutch software engineer living in New Zealand, said that for a long time it looked as though Jackson was going to be convicted.

But then “the prosecution brought people from 10 or 20 years ago to the stand and I thought there’s no case if you have to do that,” said de Boer, who then began selling the Jackson contract short on Tradesports on expectations that it would decline in value.

Mike Knesevitch, a spokesman for Tradesports where $100,000 has been traded on the Jackson trial, said the site’s members are savvy news-junkies.

“Our thesis is that opinion markets or exchanges like this are better predictors of future events than any poll could be,” Knesevitch said.

Opinion markets have a good track record in forecasting elections, and economists have recently turned to them for insight on a range of events. Traders on Tradesports, for example, accurately predicted that Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger would be elected successor to the late Pope John Paul II.

But some say that guessing the outcome of jury trials is inherently risky.

“The thing about a trial is a lot of the people gambling aren’t lawyers,” said Bodog’s Ayre. Unlike a sporting event, in which fans can rely on statistics, “this is a one-off event. This isn’t like a best of seven. Anything can happen.”

De Boer, meanwhile, is patiently waiting to reap the benefit of a Jackson acquittal.

“I’m just here to make money. He’s just a wacko — he’s not guilty in my opinion,” said de Boer, who has wagered $1,600. But, he conceded, “because I have money on it, I’m biased.”