By BRETT ARENDS
Memo to all those American sports fans -- and journalists -- in London for the Olympic Games: While you're there, try doing a few things that are illegal back here in the "land of the free."
Smoke a Cuban cigar. It's OK: No one is going to arrest you for breaching the Helms-Burton Act! Nobody cares! Those crazy Brits just don't believe that Cuba might invade them, conquer them, and destroy their way of life! They're not even afraid of Cuba -- can you imagine?
Walk down the road with a drink in your hand. If your 18-year-old child is with you, buy the kid a drink too. It's amazing. No one cares!
Jaywalk. In London, pedestrians always have the legal right of way. Wacky. It's like cars and trucks aren't even people.
Oh, and while you're at it, here's one more thing you can do: Place a bet on the U.S. presidential election.
It's legal there. It's safe. It's easy. You can do it on pretty much any busy street in London.
Compare and contrast that with the laws here at home, where you can't place this bet -- anywhere. I once schlepped around every sports book in Vegas trying to find someone to take my money, till the Nevada Gaming Commission told me it was against the law to allow betting on elections. Apparently that's true in every state. (The only exception is a small betting exchange run by the University of Iowa's business school as an experiment.
The rationale for our laws: They're in place so no politician has an incentive to blow an election. You couldn't make this up. (Politicians still blow elections, of course, but only for free.)
In Britain you can gamble on any election, including theirs -- and ours. I once wrote a book about it. Now I'm looking at the odds and wishing I were back in Blighty (i.e., England) with a fistful of bills.
Any high street bookie will take your bet. Ladbrokes, the biggest, offers a wide range of markets.
Do you think you know who'll win? The U.K. bookies now heavily favor Obama: He's quoted at 2/5, compared with 15/8 for Romney. Put another way, they currently give Obama a roughly 70% chance of winning, against 35% for Romney. (Those odds have moved sharply towards Obama in recent weeks, following Romney's missteps, although the polls in the U.S. don't reflect that.)
Looking for a punt on Romney's VP pick? The bookies heavily favor Rob Portman (2/1) and Tim Pawlenty (9/4).
Those seem pretty narrow odds. Nobody asked me, but I think that if the race gets tougher for Romney, the more he'll face more pressure to go for someone more interesting and "diverse." In the only election Romney has won so far, when he ran for Massachusetts governor in 2002, he picked a female running mate for the same reason. If he does something similar this time, New Mexico's governor Susana Martinez looks like a fun wager at 25/1. New Hampshire senator Kelly Ayotte is 16/1. Florida senator Marco Rubio, who may help with the Hispanic vote, is 6/1. Gen. David Petraeus, currently at the center of some speculation for VP, is offered at 100/1.
This election is going to come down to the swing states. The London bookies think Obama will win most of them. Romney is 7/4 to win Ohio, evens in Florida, 11/8 in Virginia, and 5/4 in Iowa.
The British bookmakers also give Obama a big edge in betting on the electoral college. But the college arguably favors the GOP, and Romney could squeak out an electoral victory even with fewer overall votes, as Bush did in 2000. Anything over 269 is a majority: Ladbrokes will offer you 11/2 on Romney winning 270 to 289 electoral votes, and 10/1 on winning 290 to 309.
Suffolk University political pollster David Paleologos's take? He thinks Obama has an edge in the election, but it's "not huge." He thinks Obama has a moderate edge in Ohio and New Hampshire, but Florida and Virginia are "toss-ups," and Romney "will probably win Iowa." If he's right, this election could be a true squeaker. You want a really off-the-wall bet? Bookies will give you 100/1 on the election being tied in the electoral college. After my recent lunch with Paleologos, I did the math. It could happen.