Even before the 115 cardinals in Vatican set the date for the conclave while they await the arrival of 12 more cardinals, an early favourite to be the successor of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI is emerging - not among the red-capped bishops but among bettors.
According to Irish bookmaking site Paddy Power, the 64-year-old Ghanaian Cardinal Peter Turkson is the top pick among bettors.
Papal interest as well as news about sex abuse cases involving priests and even cardinals had intensified global speculations on who would lead the 1.2-billion-member Roman Catholic Church. Two hours after then Pope Benedict announced in mid-February his resignation by Feb 28, Paddy Power received more than $200,000 in bets on who would be the next pope.
The global bookmaker said more than 20,000 have placed their bets, majority on Cardinal Turkson, and Paddy Power expects the bets to breach $7 million as the conclave makes Paddy Power history by being the biggest round of non-sporting betting.
The cardinal is expected to be more controversial, besides the growing clamour for him to be the first black pope, after a Facebook post provided details of the cardinal's 2011 essay proposing a new world order.
The essay, titled Towards Reforming the International Finance and Monetary Systems in the Context of Global Public Authority, called to end Westphalian sovereignty and the establishment of a global public authority.
Cardinal Turkson, who is president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, listed three basic principles in the creation of a world government. These are it should be gradually implemented through peaceful methods, based on support of free-market economics but inspired by the values of charity and truth and established on a federal model of decentralised decision-making.
He proposed that the global body be used to enforce arbitration of international disputes and also the creation of a world central bank to make it easier to recapitalises banks using public funds.
He insisted Christians are duty-bound to support the formation of a world order.
Besides Cardinal Turkson, who has been given an 11-4 odds or becoming pope, other bettors' choices are Italian Cardinals Angelo Scola (3-1), Tarcisio Bertone (6-1) and Angelo Bagnasco (6-1), Canadian Cardinal Marc Ouellet (6-1) and Argentinean Cardinal Leonardo Sandri (12-1).
The American Gaming Association said betting on election results is illegal which is the reason by bookmakers in Nevada are not accepting betting on the pope. The association's spokesman added it is also illegal for U.S. residents to place bets with foreign bookmakers in the Internet.
Vatican rules leave the selection of the next pope solely on the hands of cardinals and it prohibits political-style campaigning. However, supporters of Cardinal Turkson had placed posters urging the cardinals to vote for him.
Media men covering the conclave believe the cardinal had nothing to do with the posters.