Analysis

Why no political punts?

Given the current focus on the Presidential election, it might seem something of an anomaly that political betting is banned in the US.

With every Presidential poll that gets released, much of the discussion will focus on what this means for the odds of either candidate winning the race to the White House.

Yet, even though we view the contest as a betting heat, it might come as something of a surprise that even in states where sports-betting is legal, political betting remains very much outside the law.

“To answer your question, it’s pretty straightforward here in New Jersey: wagering on elections or other political events is not authorized by NJ law,” says Leland Moore from the New Jersey Office of the Attorney General.

The lack of political betting doesn’t affect the rating for New Jersey which is the number one gaming-friendly state on the Wedge Index.

Crowd control

New Jersey isn’t alone in this ban. In fact, all other states have similar statutes, including Nevada which rejected a proposal to allow political betting in 2013.

State Sen. Greg Brower, R-Reno, said: “Frankly, I think that something as import as elections, as opposed to games, should not be the subject of wagering in our state.”

However, this isn’t the end of the story. PredictIt is a platform which allows users to trade positions on election – or to put it another way, to bet on the outcome. And it is licensed, but not via state regulators. Instead, PredictIt is licensed by the Commodity Futures Trading Commission or CFTC.

Similarly, the Iowa Electronic Markets is “a futures market run for research and teaching purposes.” The site says it uses the “wisdom of crowds” as the basis for the prices of its markets on a number of events.

The IEM allows participants to ‘bet’ between $5-$500 on a political candidate or party and has been up-and-running since 1988.

Missing a trick

Where regulated betting sites are missing out is the amount of interest generated by the election cycle and this year is certainly no exception.

According to Darren Hughes at Betfair, the 2016 Presidential election was the largest single market in the history of the exchange with $253m bet. 

This year so far $187m has been bet on the Presidential market on Betfair. But as Hughes points out, $95m of that came after the polls closed so with two weeks to go it is highly likely the 2020 election will surpass this figure, possibly even before polling day itself.

William Kedyani, the political betting specialist at Star Sports, says the circumstances of this year’s contest – an unpopular President against what some people consider is a flawed challenger – makes for a more competitive contest. 

That, “along with the fact more people are getting involved with political betting.” 

Shine a light

But it is the publicity gained by political betting that truly makes it a winner. “It allows bookmakers to reach people who wouldn’t normally think of them, and especially those who aren’t overly into their sport,” says Kedyani.

It is the best argument in favor of political betting. Nothing legitimizes like media coverage and with regulated books attempting to steer more people away from offshore sites, the lure of political betting makes a lot of sense.

For those that are interested – let’s face it, the Trump-Biden match-up is perhaps the most interesting betting contest available right now – Betfair suggests that Biden is the favorite at 1.6, while Trump is at 2.66.

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Scott Longley

Scott Longley has been a journalist since the early noughties covering personal finance, sport and the gambling industry. He has worked for a number of publications including Investor's Week, Bloomberg Money, Football First, EGR and GamblingCompliance.com. He now writes for online and print titles across a wide range of sectors.

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