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Britain's bookmakers see Obama returning to White House

By Keith Weir

LONDON (Reuters) - U.S. President Barack Obama will be elected for a second term next month if Britain's bookmakers are to be believed.

The polls have Obama effectively tied with rival Mitt Romney in the two-horse race for the White House but the odds show gamblers putting their money on the incumbent.

British bookmakers offer political betting as a niche sideline to more lucrative wagers on sports like horse racing and soccer. They take bets from around the globe - although not from the United States where such gambling is prohibited.

"It's really exciting betting. The markets and the pollsters have a little competion on who is most accurate," Richard Glynn, chief executive of British bookmaker Ladbrokes , told Reuters.

Two weeks before the November 6 election, Obama was 2/5 favorite with Ladbrokes, meaning a punter would have to gamble 5 pounds ($17.6) to win 2 pounds. Romney would offer a better return at odds of 15/8, allowing gamblers to win almost double what they wager.

Online gambling exchange Betfair, which cuts out the middleman by matching bets directly between gamblers, gives Obama a 66 percent chance of victory, to 34 percent for his Republican challenger.

Betfair claims that its exchage can provide a more reliable guide to the outcome of elections than some polls.

It cites the notorious example of 2004 when exit polls pointed to a win for Democrat John Kerry but its exchange indicated the correct result, a second term for George W. Bush.

"People betting their money make a much more hard-headed decision," said Betfair spokesman James Midmer.

"With polls, people sometimes say who they want to win."

Britain's largest bookmaker William Hill said it expected over one million pounds ($1.6 million) to be staked with it on the U.S. election - the highest it has recorded for the vote.

Putting that figure in perspective, the bookmaker says gamblers will bet more on the English Premier League soccer clash between top two Chelsea and Manchester United this Sunday.

Political betting caters for gamblers left cold by sporting action, says William Hill spokesman Graham Sharpe.

"It gets us to people that we otherwise couldn't reach," said Sharpe. "People tend to have one main passion that they will bet on because they have enough knowledge," he added.

William Hill is also taking bets on two more senior roles up for grabs closer to home - the next Bank of England governor and the new Archbishop of Canterbury.

(Editing by Catherine Evans)

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