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US 2020 Election Wagering Gaining Steam?

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Photo by Derek R. Henkle / AFP

With the sports cupboards empty in this time of COVID-19, US sportsbooks have been desperately searching for new opportunities to keep their clientele engaged. The latest idea is to allow US citizens to throw down on just who will win the 2020 US election. The state of West Virginia was first on the board, offering odds and betting opportunities on what should be a watershed moment for the US legal sports betting industry. It lasted under one hour.

Traditionally, betting on US elections has not been allowed, but that hasn't stopped sportsbooks from at least trying. The fact is that there is nothing bigger for the US population than the outcome of an upcoming generational election and the fact that there is nothing better to bet on could accelerate election betting acceptance for states that depend on tax revenue from the sports betting industry.

Sarbjit Bakhshi, head of political markets at London-based online betting exchange Smarkets weighed in on the potential of election betting in the US saying “I think the potential for legal political betting in the USA is huge. Given the extraordinary nature of politics in recent years — Brexit, Trump, coronavirus — we’ve seen a huge uplift in people visiting our site to bet and trade on politics, and I think there will be a real appetite for it when it eventually begins to open up in the States. The U.S. presidential election is always a big event over here, and with a personality like Trump involved, we are fully expecting new records for volume on our site.”

West Virginia's efforts

The state of West Virginia took the election-betting ball on Tuesday, posting odds about who would win the US election. Donald Trump was the -110 favorite, Joe Biden the +125 second choice, followed by long shots New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (22/1), Sen. Bernie Sanders (35/1), Hillary Clinton (50/1) and Michelle Obama (100/1).

The state’s attempt was quickly rescinded and characterized as a "false start" as any mention of odds and betting opportunities on the election were quickly extinguished. “It got put up as a market that is legal in West Virginia, but we hadn't done all the research we need to do, and we pulled it down after an hour,” said John Myers, director of the West Virginia Lottery. “It is my understanding that we were asked by the sportsbooks to allow betting on the presidential election and it is being reviewed. I think possibly someone jumped before being given an approval.”

Whether West Virginia becomes the start of something huge or another failed attempt to get election betting legalized remains to be seen.

Political betting in Europe

Europe has long been accepting of bets on politics and has been on the US elections betting bandwagon for years. Jay Kornegay, executive vice president of operations at the Westgate SuperBook recently talked about the popularity of US elections betting in Europe, mentioning that 10 to 15 times more money in Europe is wagered on US elections that any one sporting event in America – Super Bowl included.

On the possibility of legalizing election betting in the US he said: “It would be gigantic. It would be the biggest offering we would have on the board.” Joe Asher, CEO of William Hill US is also out with some supportive words for election betting saying: “It’s something we offer in other parts of the world and it’s very popular. I have made bets on the presidential election in the past, and made a recent bet on Joe Biden when I was in London a couple of months ago.”

But…

For now, and for the foreseeable future, betting on elections in the US is not permitted, despite almost every sportsbook in America surveyed being willing to take it on. One state statute (West Virginia ironically) stipulates that “It shall be unlawful to bet or wager money or other thing of value on any election held in this state.”

Nevada, the US gambling pioneer, has opted not to touch election betting during their storied history and they don’t look as though they are about to entertain the idea anytime soon. According to Nevada Gaming Control Board senior analyst Mike Lawton: “In order for licensed sportsbooks in Nevada to accept wagers on elections, the State of Nevada’s Legislature would be required to convene and change the law”.

Even Raymond Lesniak, a Democratic Senator from New Jersey who was largely responsible for bringing his state's extremely successful legal sports betting platform to light said of election wagers: “I don't think it's a good idea… It just seems … unseemly.”

So, as fun and potentially lucrative as betting on the 2020 US election might be, there just doesn’t seem to be an appetite for it at this point in time. Europeans will be betting on the outcome of the US election for sure but don’t expect US residents to be doing the same, at least for 2020.