Developing

Royal betting hots up on Britain's 'Baby Cambridge'

The long wait for the birth of Britain's royal baby is record business for bookmakers, as punters worldwide bet on a girl called Alexandra to be born any day now.

Bookies say they are taking an unprecedented number of bets on Prince William and his wife Catherine's first child, worth more than £1 million (1.1 million euros, 1.5 million dollars) so far.

"It is the biggest novelty market we have ever seen," Gary Burton, from the British betting firm Coral, told AFP.

But fevered speculation about the name and sex of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge's baby is now turning to the birth itself after the reported due date came and went.

The refusal of Buckingham Palace to name the date beyond saying it would be in mid-July -- press reports suggested the 13th -- has fuelled the fire.

An August birth is even a possibility with the odds shortening from 80/1 to 60/1 after a number of bets in recent days, while a birth in the last week of July has gone from 30-1 recently to 14-1 now, bookmakers say.

"It's all about 'Will Kate be late?'," said Rory Scott, of Irish bookies Paddy Power.

The sums are huge for a non-sporting or novelty market, with Coral saying it had taken more than £500,000 on the royal baby and Paddy Power reporting bets of £350,000 -- last weekend punters were betting £10,000 a day.

William Hill, a British bookmaker, said it had taken £100,000 from 100 different countries including a huge £1,000 bet from a punter in Austria on a male baby placed in the last week.

That is at odds with most people, who believe it will be a girl following reports based on a misunderstanding that Kate, when meeting the public in March, had started to say "my daughter" before cutting herself short; recordings of the incident clearly show she did not.

One punter placed £5,000 with Coral at the weekend on a baby girl.

But while betting on the day constantly changes, favourites for the royal baby's name have remained broadly similar for weeks.

Coral last week suspended betting on the name after a string of bets were placed on the favourite, Alexandra, in the space of a couple of hours -- all in central London where the royal family are based. It is now taking bets again.

Alexandra has topped the odds for weeks with most bookmakers offering around 6/4, helped by the fact that it is one of Queen Elizabeth II's other given names.

Other favourites for girls include Charlotte, Victoria (after Britain's longest-reigning monarch) Elizabeth (the queen's name, as well as Kate's middle name) and Diana (the name of William's late mother).

Diana is the most popular name in terms of the number of bets placed with Paddy Power.

For boys, James -- the name of Kate's brother -- and George lead the pack.

A top outside tip is however said to be Louis, which is not only one of William's given names but also the first name of his father Charles's mentor Louis Mountbatten, the 1940s viceroy of India. He was killed in an Irish Republican Army bomb attack in 1979.

Despite footballer David Beckham's tongue-in-cheek suggestion in an interview on Monday that the baby should be called David, the name seems doomed to remain an also-ran, with odds of between 33/1 and 100/1.

The sports icon was invited to William and Kate's wedding and worked with the prince on England's failed 2018 World Cup bid.

There are some even more outlandish choices on offer.

Scott said Paddy Power's biggest single liability was a £1,000 wager on the 50/1 shot Kai -- the name of England footballer Wayne Rooney's eldest son.

Royal baby fever is also driving bets on details such as its birth weight, with Coral halving the odds on the baby tipping the scales between seven pounds and seven pounds, 15 ounces (3.18 to 3.6 kilogrammes), and hair colour, with ginger being the outlier.

There has even been a series of bets that the baby will be born in the evening. The speculation here is that if the baby is late then it will be induced, and that doctors will opt for the nightime amid an ongoing heatwave in Britain.

"Every day that passes we presume tomorrow must be the day that it will arrive," said Joe Crilly, a spokesman for William Hill. "That is also driving people to have another wager."