Long's odds shortened in East Belfast
BOOKIES have slashed the odds on Naomi Long reclaiming the East Belfast Westminster seat from the DUP.
Over recent days Paddy Power has shortened the Alliance leader's price to 8/13 – making her clear favourite ahead of incumbent Gavin Robinson, whose odds of topping the poll are 6/5.
Mr Robinson took the seat from Mrs Long in 2015 with the help of a unionist pact. However, the DUP and Ulster Unionists have been unable to reach a deal in in the key constituencies of East Belfast and South Belfast.
The parties have moved to step aside unilaterally in a handful of other seats, with the DUP giving Tom Elliott a free run in Fermanagh-South Tyrone and the Ulster Unionists not fielding in North Belfast, West Belfast and Foyle.
However, Sinn Féin's Michelle Gildernew is still favourite at odds of 8/13 to win Fermanagh-South Tyrone ahead of Mr Elliott at 13/8.
In East Belfast, the Ulster Unionists are running Hazel Legge but the bookies have given the Lisburn and Castlereagh councillor a longer price even than the Conservative candidate.
"The odds for Alliance's Naomi Long shortened from 8/11 after the UUP confirmed they'd be running a candidate," said Paddy Power's head politics trader Joe Lee.
"This would be seen as a negative for the DUP's Gavin Robinson as the UUP are more likely to take votes from their candidate."
Paddy Power believes two of the SDLP's three sitting MPs are likely to retain their seats, but former Sinn Féin infrastructure minister Chris Hazzard yesterday became favourite to take South Down from Margaret Ritchie.
Sinn Féin surpassed the SDLP in its South Down heartland for the first time ever in March's assembly election.
"It's nip and tuck battle here between SDLP and Sinn Féin but a series of recent bets for Chris Hazzard make him the very slight favourite at this early stage," Mr Lee said.
"We expect them to swap positions right up to election day."
In South Belfast, the odds of Alasdair McDonnell winning are 5/4 compared to a price of 13/8 for second favourite Emma Little-Pengelly of the DUP.
"Belfast South is a three-way battle with the SDLP currently shading it," Mr Lee told The Irish News.
In Foyle, Mark Durkan is the 4/6 favourite to retain his seat ahead of Sinn Féin's Elisha McCallion, who was last night priced at 11/10.
Meanwhile, the odds for surprise Sinn Féin candidate John Finucane to beat Nigel Dodds in North Belfast have improved from 3/1 to 2/1 over recent days.
Across the north, Mr Lee said Sinn Féin has been attracting the most support from punters.
"We’ve taken 45 per cent of all bets in the region for Sinn Féin – 54 per cent of stakes – that’s over double the next bet, DUP."
Meanwhile, a DUP assembly member who voiced concern about concessions on same-sex marriage has been confirmed as the party's candidate for West Tyrone.
Tom Buchanan, who has stood in the the past three general elections, recently threatened to quit the party if it removed its Stormont veto.
Similar concerns were voiced by former health minister Jim Wells, who has not been selected to stand for the DUP in South Down.