April 21, 2011— -- There are those who will watch next week's royal wedding with crossed fingers and bated breath, meticulously timing the length of Prince William and Kate Middleton's first kiss, breathlessly waiting to see the color of the queen's hat, and calculating the length of the train on the bride's wedding gown, all in the hopes of seeing a fairy tale come to life.
But there will be tens of thousands of others, similarly glued to their televisions, equally anxious and obsessed with the same details but for a very different reason: money. Lots of it.
Millions of dollars will be bet on the April 29 wedding, in what is expected to be the largest non-sporting gambling event in history, eclipsing wagers for the Academy Awards.
Bookmakers across the United Kingdom and around the world have set odds on virtually every variable in the wedding, from the shade of white for Middleton's dress -- 2-3 for ivory, 3-4 for cream -- to the length of her train. Even whether Prince Harry, William's younger brother and best man, will drop the ring during the ceremony (25-1 says he will, 1-50 says he won't.)
Gambling is perfectly legal in the U.K. and most towns have a betting parlor on the main street. Most of the wagers already placed online have come from British gamblers, said Ed Pownall, the politics and entertainment oddsmaker for Bodog, the world's biggest gambling website.
But thousands of pounds are being wagered from elsewhere around the world, particularly India.
Indeed, many of the countries where the Queen's image is still on the currency -– including Canada, which has seen a spike in bets recently -- or which were former colonies such as India are betting heavily.
Gambling, for the most part, is illegal in the United States. U.S. casinos don't take bets on non-sporting events such as the Oscars because the results are already known to a handful of people. But online betting at sites based overseas is a legal gray area, and many Americans go to Bodog and similar sites to bet on things such as the winner of "American Idol."
Royal Wedding: Queen Leads All Bets
"We are seeing a real interest in the royal wedding from the U.S., especially given how much coverage it's getting over there," Pownall said. "All three networks are going to be showing the ceremony."
The most popular bet so far is about the color of the hat Queen Elizabeth will wear. The leading choice is yellow.
Following a rumor that the hat would be yellow, the odds changed from 10-1 to 6-4, meaning they're now almost even.
The biggest long-shot gamble: Middleton becomes a runaway bride, leaving William jilted at the altar. That bet pays out $1,000 for every $1 gambled.
Live coverage of the event means bookies will be creating new bets as the ceremony takes place. The wedding is a national holiday in the U.K. and bookmakers are betting that gamblers -- or punters, as they're called in Britain -– stay home and make continuous bets.
"To be honest," Pownall said, "most weddings are actually quite boring. If you can have a bet, it creates an added interest. Betting on who will cry, the dress color, the length of the sermon helps to hold your interest."
But it's not just gambling that will allow armchair guests to participate in a little celebratory debauchery.
A group of friends created a page on Facebook a few weeks ago outlining the rules for a royal wedding drinking game. Since then, about 188,000 people have joined the group to learn the rules and add some of their own.
Rules include taking a drink every time the queen appears on screen, and taking three swigs whenever Friday's wedding is compared to the 1980 nuptials of Prince Charles and Diana Spencer.