Cracks have begun to show in stigmas around political betting in America.
With casinos across the nation in the dark and sports betting in hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic, one state this week permitted bets on the upcoming presidential election — for about an hour.
West Virginia snafu
The West Virginia Lottery, which oversees betting in the state, said this week that officials initially approved a plan to let FanDuel and other sportsbooks offer political wagers, but needed time “to fully work through the implications and research it further.”
That was after FanDuel went ahead with offering bets on the presidential election thinking it had the approval it needed. Wagers were halted and FanDuel refunded customers’ money.
No US jurisdiction currently allows political betting, and some explicitly forbid it. Betting on American presidential elections has become a big business internationally — especially in the UK. Bookmakers there even accepted bets on whether Britain should leave the European Union, also known as “Brexit.”
West Virginia isn’t the first state to ponder political betting, though it could become the first to legalize it. Industry leaders in Nevada started the initial push to offer the service in Las Vegas. Colorado, now just weeks away from allowing legal betting on sports, has yet to make a move into the political betting arena.
If and when a state does become the first to legalize political betting it could “create a snowball effect,” said Jay Kornegay – executive vice president of operations at the Westgate SuperBook and one of the initial pushers for political betting – to PlayColorado.
Betting on a presidential election would outduel the Super Bowl as the handle champion, tempting other states on the fence to follow suit, Kornegay said. The European and offshore unlicensed sports books counterparts Kornegay has spoken with have told him they take in 10 to 15 times as much money on the US presidential election as American sportsbooks take on the Super Bowl.
“I’ve talked to some of my colleagues here in (Las Vegas), and we all understand the scope of the election,” he said. “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.”
Presidential Election betting in Colorado
For now, the Centennial State has no plan to jump on the political betting bandwagon.
PlayColorado was told by the spokesman for Colorado Speaker of the House KC Becker last month that political betting isn’t something she’s considering. Becker represents House District 13, which includes Black Hawk and Central City.
Until the Colorado legislature takes up and approves political betting in the state, the Division of Gaming doesn’t have an opinion one way or the other.
“The Division of Gaming’s role is to act as the regulatory agency for public policy set by the Colorado legislature,” Division spokeswoman Suzanne Karrer told PlayColorado. “It would take measures by the Colorado General Assembly to change the statute in order to legalize political bets in Colorado.”
Attempts to reach the Colorado Gaming Association, which represents the interests of the Colorado commercial casino industry, were unsuccessful.
Why the stigma?
Kornegay believes one of the main reasons political betting hasn’t gained legal footing in Nevada or the country is because some believe the odds would impact voters.
For others, like former New Jersey state senator Raymond Lesniak, they just think it’s “unseemly.”
“It’s a very sensitive line to many decision makers, politicians and others,” Kornegay said. “They just don’t see the reasoning to allow wagers on the election.”
Having a state come forward to legalize political wagering could sway opinions and chip away at some of those negative stereotypes. Skeptics would begin to see the immense popularity and business potential it would have for now struggling casinos and sportsbooks.
“I think the biggest hurdle is to overcome the moral part of it,” Kornegay said. “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.”
With the betting industry in upheaval due to the pandemic, a possible lifeline could surface in the form of political betting — and sooner than most might think. Keep an eye on West Virginia. It might just take another swing at those stigmas.