Economic analysis

Gambling big bucks on the Queen's hat colour. Truly.

A whopping $640-million will be bet at this year's Royal Ascot, on everything from who will get kicked out and, well, horseracing

Day one of 2012's Royal Ascot (Sang Tan/AP)

Each year the high and mighty from around the world gather at Ascot. While there are horses running around the track at regular intervals, most attention is spent on watching ladies dress up in their finest frocks, with equally extravagant hats.

Fashion aside, Royal Ascot is very, very big business. An estimated $640-million worth of bets will be plunked down during the five days of the annual horse racing extravaganza. And a hefty chunk of that gambling revolves around the most frivolous of bets: what colour of hat the Queen will wear each day, but especially on Thursday’s Ladies’ Day, when women pull out all their fashion show-stoppers.

This year Paddy Power is offering 6-4 odds on purple or pink, while plain salmon gets 9-1 and salmon with black spots gets 100-1. For those with money to burn, the betting site is offering 1000-1 if the Queen is seen with a “Union Jack baseball cap worn backwards.” Bookmaker William Hill has 4-1 odds on blue (highly unlikely given the monarch wore that colour on the first day of the races), 5-1 on purple and 50-1 on “the Queen wears the same hat or coat she wore during the five days of the jubilee celebrations on Ladies’ Day.” Interestingly, William Hill is only offering 10-1 odds on this seemingly impossible combo: “The Queen to have a Union Jack somewhere visible on her ladies’ Day outfit (including accessories such as hat, handbag and shoes.)” Maybe they’re thinking back to Epsom, during the Diamond Jubilee weekend, when her granddaughter Princess Eugenie sported patriotic nail fashion.

But betting isn’t restricted to to the fickleness of fashion: this year William Hill is offering odds on who will be turned away or kicked out of the Royal Enclosure. Celebs from Big Brother are getting 4-1 odds, while the Queen’s grandson-in-law, rugby player Mike Tindall gets 50-1 odds.  That’s because the fascination with fascinators—just look at the millinery of Kate, duchess of Cambridge—has ended, at least at this racetrack. Royal Ascot has had its fill of the current less-is-best fashions and after years of hemlines creeping ever upward and hats shrinking into little more than feathered pompoms, the taste arbiters at Britain’s grandest racetrack have gotten out their rulers to enforce more conservative clothing requirements.

Ladies are kindly reminded that formal day wear is a requirement in the Royal Enclosure, defined as follows:

  • Dresses and skirts should be of modest length defined as falling just above the knee or longer
  • Dresses and tops should have straps of one inch or greater
  • Jackets and pashminas may be worn but dresses and tops underneath should still comply with the Royal Enclosure dress code
  • Trouser suits are welcome. They should be of full length and of matching material and colour
  • Hats should be worn; a headpiece which has a base of 4 inches (10cm) or more in diameter is acceptable as an alternative to a hat.

Ladies are kindly asked to note the following:

  • Strapless, off the shoulder, halter neck, spaghetti straps and dresses with a strap of less than one inch (2.5cm) are not permitted
  • Midriffs must be covered
  • Fascinators are no longer permitted in the Royal Enclosure; neither are headpieces which do not have a base covering a sufficient area of the head (4 inches / 10cm). 

They’ve even placed fashion police at the entrances to the Royal Enclosure armed with pashminas, ties and other bits and bobs to allow those who’ve crossed over the fashion line a chance redeem themselves, and thus get into the most exclusive part of the racetrack.

While all this royal betting seems harmless, there is a darker side. In 2008, William Hill reported higher-than-normal betting on the Queen wearing a fascinator—then still on the approved list—to Ladies’ Day. “We slashed our odds from 10-1 to 5-1 for the fascinator at 3:30 p.m. yesterday after several large three-figure sums were bet,” a spokesman told the Daily Telegraph. “It was a warning signal we thought some information may have leaked out of the palace. More bets kept being put on the fascinator this morning and we closed the books at 10:30 a.m.” At the same time Paddy Power was experiencing a deluge of bets on red, slashing the odds from 20-1 to 1-3. (One can only imagine a down-on-his-luck footman or page texting a buddy or two, “QEII has red pom-pom on head. Bet big!”) Alas, the Queen confounded those who thought they had an inside edge. She wore pastel blue.

Of course, all those bets are dwarfed by the mother of all royal gambles—when William and Kate will have a baby. William Hill is offering 7-4 odds for a 2012 birth with 2013 next at 8-13. Even the future monarch’s name is up for grabs. Currently John (8-1) and Frances (9-1) are leading the pack.





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