(NEW YORK) — If the oddsmakers are correct, the next pope will be a Canadian.
Marc Cardinal Ouellet, the former archbishop of Quebec, who now heads the Congregation of Bishops, has shot to the top of oddsmakers’ lists in the 24 hours since Pope Benedict XVI unexpectedly announced he will retire at the end of the month.
Paddy Power, based in Ireland, lists Ouellet at 7 to 2 odds. Ladbrokes, a London-based betting house, has the Canadian cardinal at 3 to 1 odds.
Ouellet has such “pope-ularity” that he has attracted 65 percent of all wagers at Ladbrokes, spokeswoman Jessica Bridge told ABC News.
Pope Benedict’s surprise resignation has only fueled the interest of bettors, said Féilim Mac An Iomaire, spokesman for Paddy Power.
“Last time around [in 2005] we had over 1 million euro betting on the next pope. This time around we certainly expect to exceed that,” he said. “We’re confident this will be our biggest non-sporting betting event we’ve ever had.”
The African cardinals — Francis Arinze of Nigeria and Peter Turkson of Ghana, initially emerged as the bookies’ favorites, though their odds have since widened.
“We’ve actually seen a complete abandonment of Arinze. People are losing faith in him to be the pope,” Mac An Iomaire said.
Turkson was the initial favorite at Ladbrokes, but he has fallen behind Ouellet with 4 to 1 odds.
The Italian with the best shot, according to the oddsmakers, is Archbishop Angelo Scola, 71, of Milan.
He’s listed with 4 to 1 odds at Paddy Power, second to Ouellet. Ladbrokes lists the theologian at 5 to 1 odds.
Timothy Dolan, the cardinal from New York, is considered an outsider with 40 to 1 odds at Paddy Power. Ladbrokes has the affable American listed at 33 to 1 odds.
Of course, the decision is left to the 117 eligible cardinals who will elect the next pope. The conclave, which is held in the Sistine Chapel, is expected to begin in March.
Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio
Lorenzo Ferrigno, CNN
Andreas Preuss, CNN
Susan Scutti, CNN