October 15, 2018 by

When Politics Meets Sports Betting

An interesting article was posted at two right wing American online blogs, Townhall and Liberty Unyielding.  The article references the fast growing sports betting market in the United States but digresses to include what it terms “political prediction betting”. 


Sports Betting and Online Casino Gambling

First, a word about online casino gambling in the United States.  In 2006 Congress passed a law called the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act which basically made it difficult to impossible for financial institutions to transfer clients’ money to an online casino.  This was seen as a way to protect the already legal and regulated gambling venues such as land based casinos, horse tracks, dog tracks plus the very profitable state lotteries.

Despite the law, there have always been a few online casinos that looked for and found ways to circumvent the law by offering bonuses with bonus codes, the full gamut of online casino games and so on.  No one actually broke the law.  Now, as states see that there is a lot of uncollected tax money being left “on the table” they are getting into the online casino gambling market as well.  So, online casino gaming is making a big comeback in the US.

A similar result is taking place in the world of sports betting.  The Professional and Amateur Protection Act of 1992 kept sports betting underground in most of the United States for over 25 years.  The market has grown to about $80 billion bet illegally every year.  By now, every gamer knows that sports betting is now legal in all 50 states thanks to the tenacity of officials in New Jersey and the Supreme Court decision of this past May.

People Love to Gamble

One inexorable lesson of all this posturing by legislatures and the resulting refusal of gamblers to stop gambling is that people like to gamble.  They also like to put some money on events that are not easily predictable such as entertainment industry awards, hirings and firings in sports which are not games at all, and politics.

We remember the famous scene from the play “Bleacher Bums” about betting on small events at Chicago Cubs baseball games.  These were not organized bets made under regulation from the government; they were bets on such things as what the next pitch would be, where the next hit would go, who would hit the next home run, and any other esoteric statistic the bettors might choose to bet on.

Political Betting

In the political realm it is easy to see that people will bet on who might be the Democratic nominee for the presidency in 2020.  There are at the moment about twenty people who the public are speculating about.  There are already sites that take bets on who the Democratic nominee will be and the odds sometimes change daily.  That’s because, just as in sports betting, the “line” on political activity moves along with public sentiment.

In order to make sure that they don’t lose an unsustainable amount of money, the sportsbooks that take political bets change the odds as the public’s opinion wavers and changes.  In so doing, the political betting line could conceivably actually influence the choice of nominee and the eventual winner of the presidential race in 2020.

Gambling is More Popular than Politics

One way the betting line on political events may influence those events is that people generally do not like to pay attention to politics.  More than stating that politicians are only out for themselves, people try very hard to ignore them.  However, even people who don’t like politics like a good wager.  If they want to bet on a political event, they will at least have to see what the betting line is on that event.

In many cases, the betting line on the nomination and presidential race may be the only information the voter has about the race.  If he or she votes based on the betting line, it would be clear that the line itself influenced the vote.

In the Democratic field for the nomination in 2020, there are a few young, fresh politicians and a few hardened veterans of many political battles over the years.   No matter how experienced a politician might be, one misstep or verbal gaffe can ruin a politician’s chances to win an election.

Trivializing the Critical

Critics of political prediction betting say that it trivializes the serious business of politics.  In this era of big government all over the world, the political philosophy of the candidates may have long range effect on the lives of millions and even billions of people.  But the political betting market doesn’t have any way to codify political philosophy as a gambling category.  So, gamblers are invited to bet solely on who might win an election, who might be the next party leader in the US House of Representatives or in the Senate, and so on.  It turns political contests into popularity contests.

Betting Determines Voting

People who have already placed a bet on a given politician to win the nomination may bet on that person in the primary even if another candidate might serve them better.  In the past, when sports betting was illegal, political prediction betting was a very small niche area in the billion dollar illegal sports betting market.  Now that sports betting is opening up in the US and political betting is being considered a “sports” bet, we will see how powerful the effect of gambling may be on the outcome of political contests.

The United States is not the only country where a politician’s political philosophy may have far less to do with his or her election than their ability to appear likeable on television.  In the US the election of 1960 was the first time looks had any real influence on the ultimate outcome of the race.  People who heard the debates between Richard Nixon and John F. Kennedy thought that Nixon had won them.  People who saw the debates thought that Kennedy had won them.

The Future

We will have to go through at least one presidential election cycle in order to properly evaluate the effect betting had on the election.  In the meantime, we can expect the politicians to address the issues as if they were a popularity contest rather than the matters of great importance that they actually are.