Pope Benedict’s resignation may have sent shockwaves through the Catholic Church but it also kick-started what could be one of the biggest betting events of the decade.
One international agency has predicted it will be the biggest non-sport betting plunge in their history.
When the current pontiff steps aside on February 28 - the first pope to do so in almost 600 years - 120 cardinals will gather in secret to vote for a new leader from within their ranks.
That hotly contested vote, which can take days or weeks to decide, will have many people around the world on the edge of their seats - not because they have an interest in the future of the Church but because they've got money riding on a winner.
Irish betting house Paddy Power expects to surpass the $1.3 million they took on the last papal vote and are confident it will be one of the biggest events they've run a book on.
"Having spoken to the trader this morning, it's probably going to be the biggest betting event outside a sporting event we've ever had," spokesman Feilim Mac An Iomaire told ninemsn.
"This is going to put the US Presidential election and all of that in the shade."
While the Dublin-based company has allowed punters to bet on the next pope since Benedict XVI was voted in, the money started rushing in soon after it was announced the 85-year-old would be standing down.
"We've seen a lot of price changes this morning since the announcement and there's money been flying in from all angles," Mr Mac An Iomaire said.
Australia's controversial entrant in the race is Cardinal George Pell, the Archbishop of Sydney.
With odds of 50-1 on Tuesday afternoon, Pell is not seen as a favourite for the top job.
The prospect of the Church electing its first black Pope since the fifth century is very real with Cardinal Peter Turkson of Ghana the current favourite at 3-1.
Marc Ouellet from Canada is second with odds of 5-2, while early leader Cardinal Francis Arinze of Nigeria rounds out the top three at 9-2.
"Before the announcement Cardinal Arinze was the favourite, but Cardinal Ouellet overtook him once the resignation was made public and the betting started to heat up," Mr Mac An Iomaire said.
Australian bookmaker Tom Waterhouse has also opened a book on the race and has the same top three.
Mr Waterhouse told ninemsn he expects to see a lot of interest in the coming weeks.
"Electing a new Pope is always an historical event," he said.
"Benedict’s resignation has come out of the blue so we’d expect serious Pontiff punters to do their homework on the candidates and listen to the grapevine before launching into the market."
While it's still early, Mr Waterhouse said betting is coming from both the serious both ends of the spectrum.
"Some people seem happy to outlay decent sums while many punters are just having small bets at the candidates offering more value ($21 or greater)," he said.
As with many high volume betting events the market will play a big role in setting the odds for this race but Paddy Power also needed to call on some expert help with this niche market.
"It's something we monitor opinion pieces from journalists who know the subject very well and we do have people we call on who have more knowledge than ourselves," he said.
"Of course the money really has an effect on a market like this so with the money coming in thick and fast our odds are changing minute by minute."
The election of a Pope by the College of Cardinals is a serious and extremely holy event for clergy all over the world and the fact that bets are being made on the outcome is a bit distasteful to some.
Bishop of Wollongong Peter Ingham found the process insulting but conceded it was inevitable in an era where bets are placed on everything.
"People will do what they do, that's their game, but it is in a sense insulting" he said.
"It is a very serious matter and we are looking to the Holy Spirit and prayer to guide us to a new leader."
Bishop Ingham said any of the Cardinals in the conclave have a chance at being named Pope, but he believes Australia's isolation and the relative of Cardinal George Pell would likely rule him out.
"I think we're a bit out of it down here and he probably has to be a recognisable figure," he said.
"(But) nobody had heard of Pope John Paul and he went on to be quite an extraordinary man."