What?s the bet?

LARRY Anthony could lose his grip on the seat of Richmond at Saturday's federal poll but John Howard will be returned as Prime Minister.

These predictions come not from pollsters and big surveys, but from Australia's bookmakers ? and the bookies say the smart money's on them.

On-line betting agency Centrebet has been running books on the federal poll and on the seat of Richmond, along with 29 other marginal seats, since the start of the campaign.

Mr Anthony yesterday remained the punters' favourite in the Richmond electorate on $1.70 ? up from his starting price of $1.25 ? but Labor challenger Justine Elliot is closing the gap, shortening her own odds from $3.50 to $1.90 during the first four weeks of the campaign.

With just days left before the election, Centrebet spokesman Mark Worwood said the outcome in Richmond was anyone's guess.

Mr Worwood said punters tended to be better than pollsters at picking election winners, with favourites winning in 43 out of 47 marginal seats that had books run on them during the 2001 election.

About $11,000 has so far been wagered on the Richmond outcome compared with just over $30,000 for the Sydney seat of Wentworth which "everyone wants to know about".

Support for Ms Elliot, he said, was "in line with what we've seen all over the marginals that Labor candidates are all being backed".

"At those prices there's money for both of them, so obviously it's pretty close," he said.

Mr Worwood's claim has been backed by research by Australian National University academic Dr Andrew Leigh.

Mr Worwood said the greater accuracy of betting odds came down to the amount of thought put into bets.

"It's not that surprising," Mr Worwood said. "With opinion polls people are asked on the street, it's over in a few seconds and they go away not that bothered.

"When people are placing money on an election they have done their research and they may be privy to more information than most people.

Mr Anthony said he would not accept bookies' odds as a way of predicting an election campaign, adding that he believed Richmond would "go down to the wire". Ms Elliot said she was encouraged to hear she was closing the gap.

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