No Debate Whether US Includes Politics onto the Legalized Wagering Menu
- Illegal offshore wagering sites have taken advantage of US political election betting demand
- Covid-19 affecting Trump dramatically changed the odds for the upcoming Presidential election
- A loophole in US law allows for elections to be part of free-to-play contests which interest many
Besides comparing the recent US Presidential debates to WWE wrestling events or UFC championship bouts, many headlines have gone to boasting bigger Nielsen ratings than NFL Sunday Night Football. Perhaps that is appropriate because many illegal wagering outlets have been amassing substantial wagering interest by promoting similar betting support.
Do not think several US states in the early stages of legalized sports wagering have not taken notice. The large wagering companies spending huge amounts of money lately also have not missed seeing a lost opportunity to promote and add ancillary revenue. A DraftKings Sportsbook, FanDuel, BetMGM, etc. would have loved to circle these Presidential debates with advertising and notice “we have all the bets & props”.
But we’ll try to avoid using that worn-out cliché here’ “don’t bet on it”. At least anytime soon. Gambling on election-related activities is strictly prohibited in most jurisdictions and thus far in all US states. And to upend the incredible progress achieved by the stunning upset when the US Supreme Court reversed PASPA (the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act) in May 2018 might be pushing the envelope (another cliché”) a bit too far.
The Legal Jealousy
Up until the recent Presidential Debate or perhaps when President Trump took office in 2016, it has been a minor category of interest. That would include offshore wagering outlets that have supported the category prior to May 2018. However, since that time it has drawn some jealous interest from new opportunities. Curiosity in that President Trump’s publicity and giant public presence has achieved a record amount of political wagering support for illegal books offering the odds. Several large offshore books have shared competitive wagering lines akin to any football or basketball game.
Comparing lines among books has reflected many piggybacking close proximities in wanting to achieve even wagering like any other contest. The growth has come offering more proposition wagering or “props” as to which individual US states would win electoral votes, popular votes in the election, and other creative wagering choices.
The present logic of even suggesting the US legalizing wagering for political elections seems absurd, especially now when even President Trump himself, is suggesting the legitimacy of results. Are mail-in ballots accurate? Can voter counts be trusted? Keeping in mind this is even before the November 3rd election itself is taking place.
As a comparison, it would be comparable to running horse races when hired officials cannot trust the photo-finish cameras. Or at least agree to use them to decide the placings of horses in the race. Imagine if we did not give the NFL referees the power to throw penalty flags. Or worse, there were no “coach’s challenge flags and booth reviews”. Yes, there was a time when that did not occur.
The point here is anytime you involve money into wagering on a political election, you are inviting serious trouble. There is enough controversy besides the original US federal legislative outline that elections are not an athletic or sporting event. The problem arises when people want to “financially benefit” by being correct besides being rewarded for seeing their constitutional vote count.
The COVID Curve
This week the offshore books have been turned upside with news that President Trump is being medically treated for Covid-19. Like every other media source, they have not been given accurate information toward his condition or what is being known now as “transparency”. Many temporarily halted wagering until further information was given. Once some confidence returned, a different wagering outlook appeared.
Before Trump’s diagnosis last Friday, he and challenger Joe Biden were in a virtual pick-em deadlock with Biden possibly a slight -120 favorite at some wagering outlets. Upon the change, Biden zoomed to as much as -180 to -200 favorite vs Trump at various offshore books. However, many of the individual prop bets involving individual states seem to disappear from most menus upon news of the President’s uncertain health.
Internationally, bookmakers in Britain also suspended betting on the outcome of the US election on Friday after President Trump said he had tested positive for COVID-19. Ladbrokes, Irish-based Paddy Power as well as online gambling exchange Betfair was among the firms to stop all betting on the November 3rd Presidential election.
“We have temporarily taken the US election markets down as we await further updates. This is standard procedure, and we wish Donald and Melania Trump well,” a spokeswoman for Ladbrokes said in a statement.
Betfair placed Democratic challenger Biden’s probability of winning at 60% on Wednesday after the first US presidential debate on September 30th. Biden’s odds rose from 56% before the debate. Trump fell to 40%. Unlike the US and its customs, betting is permitted, legal, and quite common in Britain.
An Interesting Loophole
US law does allow for certain “free to play” contests involving politics, where no money is wagered. One of these is the Super Six by Fox Bets, which allows participants to win cash if they make the right choices on election-related activity. Since its introduction in September 2019, Super Six has paid out over $1.4 million, despite its free-to-play model.
Because it is a free-to-play contest, it is legally able to bypass several prohibited US gambling laws. It is traditionally available for many sporting events. Introducing a component involving a presidential election heightens interest, especially in 2020. It is available to everyone in the US, except for residents in Washington State.
As an example, last week’s Super Six involved the first Presidential Debate. It used prop type wagering questions that often appeared in typical offshore wagering lists including whether Trump would refer to Biden as “Sleepy Joe”. Would “both shake hands” among six questions in the category. Top winners shared a prize pool of $25,000.
Fox Bet interim CEO Kip Levin commented on the Super Six election, calling it a “fun, lighthearted way for entrants to engage:
It’s not gambling because of the free-to-play model. Super 6 is risk-free. Customers are not wagering anything. It’s a free entry to answer some questions, engage in the debate in a new way, and potentially win some money if your predictions were correct.
The interest and hoopla will likely dissipate after the upcoming election on November 3rd. Along with that will be demand for states to include legalized wagering for politics and US political elections. Surviving Covid-19 and being able to place all traditional US sports back onto the menu should be enough for all sides to be satisfied. Let’s hope so. We have enough potential “fake news” now. Wagering has no place for “fake results”.
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Larry Gibbs is both a seasoned journalist and a respected online gaming industry consultant. His wry commentary & sharp analysis have appeared in numerous top gaming and sports wagering publications. He has also served as Vice President of US Gaming Services, a marketing research organization with 15 years of experience in US online wagering. He has spoken at noted gaming industry conferences including G2E, GiGSE, and NCLGS.