The referendum has happened. Scotland is staying part of the UK. We can now confirm that clouds and pieces of chicken are not reliable political pundits. We can also confirm that bookmakers are more reliable than polling organisations if you really want to know which way a vote is likely to go.
The bookmakers were seemingly never in doubt that a No vote was all but certain – an odds-on favourite throughout - while pollsters tried to tell us it was ‘too close to call’.
It’s a fact not lost on the bookies. Alex Donohue of Ladbrokes told The Media Blog: "Despite pollsters making the referendum too close to call we were never in much doubt and were confident of a No outcome throughout."
For the polling companies there is an upside to being wide of the mark. It’s certainly good for business if things look ‘too close to call’. The tighter a vote looks, the more interest there will be in trying to predict the outcome. The same is true of the media outlets commissioning such polls. A vote that looks as though it is hanging in the balance will naturally be of more interest to readers than something that looks like the done-deal the bookies thought it was.
Donohue reckons around £30 million was wagered on the Scottish referendum across the industry and the pollsters certainly helped fuel that betting frenzy. When a YouGov poll in association with The Sunday Times claimed the Yes campaign had a two per cent lead, punters became emboldened. In response to a "relentless" stream of small bets on Yes, Ladbrokes adjusted their odds but still maintained No as a clear odds-on favourite.
Though not all bets were small. One Ladbrokes customer made £240,000 with a £200,000 stake on a No vote, while the company’s biggest loser was a punter who bet £10,000 on a win for the Yes campaign.