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Those who bet — or didn’t and wish they had — on Leicester City

Jerseys on Leicester City

It is the summer of 2015.

The Premier League is gearing up for a new season and the oddsmakers are crunching numbers in their London offices, coming up with the first future odds that they hope will lure bettors to wager on teams for the next campaign.

Near the bottom of the 2014-15 standings were the Foxes of Leicester City, in their first year back in the Premier League after an 11-year absence. Thanks to winning seven of their last nine games, they were saved from relegation.

“They escaped by the skin of their teeth, and all signs for us had them pointing towards relegation again for this season,” said David Williams of Ladbrokes, a betting company whose roots can be traced back to 1886.

Bookies try to come up with odds to get people to bet on this sorry team, which was entering its 48th season in England’s top division. Leicester’s best finish was as runner-up in 1928-29.

So Ladbrokes sets the odds of the Foxes winning the 2015-16 title at 5,000-1. Ladbrokes’ biggest competitor, William Hill, concurs wholesale jerseys.

(For comparison, if you ever thought Kim Kardashian would become president of the United States, you could have gotten those odds for 1,000-1.)

The 5,000-1 odds on Leicester are available through August, with Ladbrokes taking 47 bets at the highest odds while William Hill wrote 25 bets.

Below is the story of seven people — from Tom Hanks to a 39-year-old carpenter — who all have tales to tell about their brush with Leicester City’s unbelievable championship season.

The bettors
Leigh Herbert

Herbert is a 39-year-old carpenter who attended his first Leicester City game in the late 1980s. Immediately, he was hooked.

Like many teams, Leicester’s recent history has been marked by promotion and relegation, the coming up and falling down common to soccer teams, when every season is a fight to stay relevant.

Despite the temptations to bet — there are betting shops with kiosks everywhere you look in Leicester’s city center — Herbert never really was tempted, except for his annual wager each year on the Grand National, a steeplechase horse race that takes place in Liverpool.

But what he heard on Aug. 5, 2015 was just too tempting: He was told the Leicester City team was 5,000-1 to win the title. So that night, he downloaded William Hill’s app to his phone, funded the account and put one pound on the bet.
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Moments later, he erased the one pound and replaced it with a five-pound bet ($7.31 using today’s exchange rate).

Little did he know that quick thinking could change his life .

“I was a bit drunk at the time,” Herbert now admits. “So no, of course I didn’t think they were actually going to win the league.”

As the season goes on, Leicester City is playing well. By Christmas, the Foxes have somehow lost only one of their first 17 matches (a 5-2 defeat to Arsenal on Sept. 26). They are the best team in the league.

On Feb. 6, after a shocking 3-1 victory at Manchester City, fans start a new chant:

“We’re gonna win the league, we’re gonna win the league, we know you don’t believe us, we know you don’t believe us, we’re gonna win the league!”

Herbert couldn’t believe the position he was in. He was in line to win $36,500.

It was around that time that Herbert also started paying attention to something that showed up in connection to his bet on Leicester. It was called “cash-out value.”

It’s a common practice in England for bookies, if they face significant risk, to offer bettors a buyout plan. It’s an automatic program that offers a bettor the chance to immediately take the cash at a discount reflective of a bet’s current odds to pay out.

The cash-out numbers kept going up and Herbert kept resisting. That was until April 1. With Leicester up five points on second-place Tottenham with seven matches to play, William Hill was offering him $21,191 for his bet, which represented 58 percent of the total value if he won the bet at season’s end.

“I thought, at that point, we were going to win, but it was too costly to lose it all,” Herbert said .

So he made a deal with the bookmaker. He cashed out two pounds of his five-pound bet at a 55 percent payout. Herbert saw $8,300 pumped into his account.

He’ll use the money as a deposit on a house, he says, which he’ll now buy before he marries his fiancée, Kerry.

With Leicester clinching the title, Herbert will get another $21,918 for a total payoff of $30,218, or a return on his investment of more than 425,000 percent over a 270-day period.

And he says he doesn’t regret the $6,332 he left on the table from making the first deal.

John Micklethwait

Every year for about two decades, John Micklethwait put down a 20-pound bet on his Leicester soccer team. He even had a date to remind him just in case he forgot – Aug. 11, which is his birthday. If he hadn’t made a bet by then, he’d walk to a betting parlor in London and take care of it.

Micklethwait actually won a couple times, when Leicester became champion in the lower leagues, but the winning payouts weren’t anything to brag about. The losing tickets usually found a spot on the wall behind his computer at The Economist, where he was editor-in-chief.

Leicester’s rise to the top of the Premier League this season has been a treat for Micklethwait.

“I couldn’t be happier, other than having 100 grand in my pocket too,” he said.

You see, Micklethwait didn’t put a 20-pound wager on his Foxes this year.

He was hired as editor-in-chief of Bloomberg News in February 2015, and when Aug. 11 came and went, it wasn’t as easy for him to walk somewhere and place a bet. He was now living in New York, where sports betting isn’t legal.

So Micklethwait let it go, even as he started hearing about Leicester’s long odds. The first time he heard 5,000-1, he admits, he did the math wrong — figuring his mistake cost him 10,000 pounds. But as Micklethwait followed his team with passion — he went to four games, despite the long distance — he came to realize his job move cost him 100,000 pounds ($146,000).

Tom Hanks

Wait, what?

At the premiere for his latest film, “A Hologram For The King,” Hanks told a reporter that he was feeling less down about his relegated Aston Villa club because he placed a 100-pound bet ($146) on Leicester to win at the beginning of the season.

Pressed by the reporter on the red carpet, Hanks backed off a bit, saying, “Maybe I did, maybe I didn’t.”

Hanks’ publicist, Michelle Margolis, told ESPN she couldn’t get us closer to the answer, but if Hanks did do it — we suspect it was a joke — it would be the single largest bet at the 5,000-1 odds.
Karisma Kapoor

In the first week of August, the 20-year-old Kapoor and her family were discussing Leicester’s season, the team’s recently hired manager — Claudio Ranieri of Chelsea fame — and, of course, the tempting odds.

“We got to ‘Why not put a couple pounds on it?'” Kapoor said.

So she and her Aunt Simmi put down a pound each ($3 total) to win a potential 10,000 ($14,600).

She said she started to think it could become reality when Leicester emerged at the top of the table in December, but said she only recently started thinking about what she’s going to do with the money.

“I will save a bit,” Kapoor said. “I’ll use some to go on holiday and I’ll buy my brother Champions League tickets.”
Unknown Internet bettor

On the exact same day Kapoor placed her bet, so, too, did a man who risked 50 pence (73 cents) on the Foxes on the Ladbrokes app. But three days later, he inexplicably cashed out, after the team won its first game of the season. The move cost him more than $3,600.

“We tried to console him,” Ladbrokes’ Williams said. “He hung up on us twice.”

John Moss

Moss attended his first Leicester City game with his father after the elder Moss returned home from World War II.

Since then, he has been a fan of the Foxes and has been known to bet on the action.

So in July, Moss was given 2,000-1 odds by Betfred shop manager Neil Samways and bet one pound that Leicester City would win it all.

Even though Betfred had shorter odds than the other sports books, Samways thought Moss was crazy. On the slip he wrote “Pigs Might Fly.”

“As we were winning more games, I would ask him if he had seen any flying pigs lately,” Moss said.

Like the others who bet on the Foxes, Moss said he didn’t expect to get back his money, thinking, at best, the team would finish in fourth place .

How is he spending his money? He’s taking his 23rd trip to Las Vegas and is going to roll it over.

Gary Lineker

Lineker, the man behind BBC’s famous “Match of the Day” and the 1986 World Cup Golden Boot winner, has been associated with Leicester City his entire life.

He grew up as a fan of the team and spent nine years playing for the Foxes, including his youth career.

He didn’t necessarily put his money down on Leicester, but did agree to risk his body if the Foxes won the title.

“YES! If Leicester win the I’ll do the first MOTD of next season in just my undies,” Lineker tweeted to his more than 4 million followers in mid-December.

“I’m in good shape,” Lineker recently told the Radio Times. “For an old bastard. I’ll probably work out for two weeks beforehand, very, very hard.”

Don’t worry too much about Lineker. He’s making money off the whole deal. His sponsor, Walker’s Crisps, put him on billboards as the potato chip company counted down to the title.

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