European, Offshore Books Offer Potential Glimpse of U.S. Election Betting

You can't bet legally on politics in the U.S. — yet — but the wild odds swings captivated many Americans
Presidental Election Betting
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For a brief moment in April — approximately 15 minutes, in fact — FanDuel Sportsbook was accepting wagers in West Virginia for who would become the next U.S. president. As quickly as the sports betting titan offered the market, it was shut down as state lottery director John Myers admitted he did not have the authority to offer it, that it violated state and federal laws, and that he did not inform Gov. Jim Justice before launch.

Fast forward six months, and no state with legalized sports betting offered markets for Tuesday night’s presidential election. But if Twitter is any indication based on the whipsaw pace of live betting on offshore and European books as states were called for incumbent President Donald Trump and challenger and former Vice President Joe Biden, the 2024 federal election could be in play for the people who choose the next occupant of the White House.

Which was the winning side for bettors? Votes are still being tabulated due to the combination of a substantial increase of early voting — in part due to the COVID-19 pandemic — as well as an increased overall turnout. Neither candidate had reached the threshold of 270 electoral votes needed to be declared the winner as of 2 p.m. EST on Wednesday.

Biden was a solid favorite Tuesday morning, but …

Biden, who served two terms as vice president to Barack Obama from 2009-16, had established himself as a solid favorite according to books, augmented by constant polling that reported his lead among registered and/or likely voters — depending on the poll — beyond the margin of error. The increased turnout expected for the election, which has been borne out as nearly 138 million votes have been counted already, compared to nearly 129 million cast in 2016 when Trump defeated Hillary Clinton to become the 45th president, was anticipated to help Biden.

Much like 2016, however, something appeared to be flawed in the methodology of those conducting the polling. It became apparent as Tuesday night progressed that the election would be more competitive than originally forecast as some states that “leaned Biden” — most notably Florida — would be won by Trump and offer him a potential path to re-election.

In turn, offshore and European bettors seized on those moments and created a whirlwind of activity that increased the volatility of those markets and swung odds in Trump’s favor over the course of the evening in the United States.

Trump leads, but then the reversal to Biden

For every action, there is a reaction. As evening turned into the overnight in the United States and television networks carried their election coverage into the wee hours, it became apparent the states that did not begin tabulating mail-in ballots until Election Day — highlighted by battleground states Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania — offered a path to the challenger given the urban areas in Detroit, Milwaukee, and Philadelphia were expected to vote overwhelmingly for Biden.

As Americans were waking up Wednesday morning with those states closer to being called, offshore and European bettors were again chasing the shifting odds as Biden re-emerged as the favorite.

The money in the horse race of election betting

The competitive nature of this election created an optimal atmosphere for betting, with both Trump and Biden facing favorable odds at different stages of the process. In addition to betting at a federal level, Betfair Exchange was also offering markets for which candidate would be victorious on a state-by-state basis. There were enough battleground states to offer fluctuating markets in both directions there as well.

The result: a staggering handle. By early Wednesday morning in the United States, Betfair Exchange reported £435 million in matched betting, which amounts to more than $565 million. For perspective, Nevada sportsbooks generated a handle of $154.7 million for Super Bowl LIV between the Kansas City Chiefs and San Francisco 49ers in February.

Given the candidates for a presidential election are normally decided months in advance in contrast to the two-week buildup for the Super Bowl, sportsbooks would have the potential to create betting markets limited only by their imagination. It also seems likely by November 2024 that more than half the states (including the District of Columbia) will have some form of legalized sports betting after citizens in Louisiana, Maryland, and Nebraska all voted in favor of taking steps to that end Tuesday night, potentially further adding to the possibility.

It is also possible by Election Day 2024 television network coverage will be vastly different given the changes that should take place following the examining of polling and forecasting methods. And the newest celebrity of sports betting — Barstool Sports founder Dave Portnoy — has a suggestion for the coverage format.

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