Betting On Politics In The US: It’s Time To Start The Debate

Written By Ian St. Clair on 10/05/2020 - Last Updated on March 17, 2021

Editor’s Note: The following article represents the views of the author.

For some, the notion of betting on politics is unseemly.

For others, it’s the belief that the odds may have a direct impact on the citizens that would keep them from voting, either for the presumed favorite or the “underdog.”

In other words, when it comes to political betting, “stick to sports.”

As Jay Kornegay said to PlayColorado in April:

“It’s a very sensitive line to many decision makers, politicians, and others. They just don’t see the reasoning to allow wagers on the election.”

Today, no U.S. jurisdiction allows political betting, and some explicitly forbid it.

So when you see odds on the presidential election, for example, they’re from offshore books or European markets.

At least for the foreseeable future, that won’t change — in America or in the Centennial State.

The spokesman for Colorado Speaker of the House KC Becker told PlayColorado in March that political betting isn’t something she’s considering. Becker represents House District 13, which includes Black Hawk and Central City.

Betting on politics

That needs to change.

The potential benefits of political betting far outweigh the negatives. And the best way to reach people who are either on the fence or dead set against it is through education.

The financial impact alone is a potential game changer. Not just for the books or casinos, either. For the states.

Look at Colorado.

In terms of sports betting, in just four months the state has already collected $744,890 in tax revenue. When CO sports betting gets the chance to wager on the Super Bowl, it will become the biggest single event for people to put money on.

Financial impact is massive

To give you an idea of how much political betting could bring in, betting on a presidential election would outduel the Super Bowl as the handle champion.

The European and offshore sportsbooks that Kornegay has spoken with have told him they take in 10 to 15 times as much money on the U.S. presidential election as American sportsbooks take on the Super Bowl.

Think about that for a second. That is a massive number.

As Kornegay said:

“I’ve talked to some of my colleagues here in (Las Vegas), and we all understand the scope of the election. And it’s just a fact, many more people have an opinion on the presidential election than they do the Super Bowl. It’s that simple.”

Kornegay, the executive vice president of operations at Westgate SuperBook, is an initial pusher to get political betting in the U.S.

He knows what it could mean for the betting industry and the books that would offer it.

That type of handle isn’t something to guff at.

When you consider the impact COVID-19 continues to play in the gaming counties of Gilpin County and Teller County, as well as the towns of Black Hawk, Central, City, and Cripple Creek, that’s potential revenue that could help fight the devastation of the last seven months.

According to Kornegay:

“I think the biggest hurdle is to overcome the moral part of it. It’s not so much understanding the line or the numbers. I believe most of the resistance is ‘leave the elections alone. Stick to sports.’ As we’ve seen in other parts of the world, these non-sporting events are very, very popular with the general public. A lot of people want to wager on it. I think that’s where the line is drawn.”

Regulation would need to be part of election wagers

One way to help ease some of the collective fears over political betting is to have an entity like the American Gaming Association but for politics.

Perhaps it’s possible to add political betting to the association, but it may serve a greater purpose to have a separate entity oversee and regulate every aspect of this. Where it’s the sole purpose of, say, the American Political Betting Association.

There’s also the argument that American citizens are already doing it via the offshore books, so legalize it and allow people to bet on politics in a regulated fashion that benefits the local entities.

And while one of the complaints against political betting is it may keep citizens from voting, the opposite is also true. If it’s allowed, it may inspire more people to vote or get involved in a presidential election.

Regulated betting a sign the fix isn’t in

Now this is not to say that the country or even Colorado should allow political betting and they should do it yesterday. Sports betting just became legal and we’re still fighting those historic stigmas.

Sports betting is still viewed by some as a dirty business. It’s still done in a dark alley with a bookie who will bust your knees if you don’t pay up.

The other is that it will have an impact on the outcome of games. Most think of either the 1919 Chicago White Sox (the Black Sox scandal) or Pete Rose.

Since the sports betting industry is so heavily regulated, none of those are true. People are slowly figuring out, or will, that it’s not as unseemly as they initially thought.

The same could be true of political betting.

Photo by AP / Julio Cortez
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Ian St. Clair

Ian is an award-winning sports journalist and a University of Northern Colorado graduate. He’s a Colorado native and has over a decade of experience covering college and professional athletics. He broke into the gambling industry right as Colorado launched legal sports betting in 2020. Ian now manages the sites for some of the biggest gambling markets in North America and is an analyst for PlayColorado.

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