Updated October 26, 2020 - 11:38 am
The 2020 U.S. presidential election is on pace to be the largest betting event ever on United Kingdom-based Betfair Exchange, surpassing the $258 million that was wagered on the 2016 election between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton.
Betfair has taken $215 million in wagers on the Nov. 3 election between President Donald Trump and former Vice President Biden and projects that almost $400 million will be bet on the outcome.
“The current total bet is more than double the ($97 million) staked at this stage four years ago,” Betfair spokesperson Sam Rosbottom said in an email. “Which means the 2020 election is on course to become the biggest single betting event of all time.”
Betfair Exchange, which opened in 2002, is a peer-to-peer betting service, where bettors wager against one another on the outcome of events.
At traditional U.K. sportsbook William Hill, betting on the election also is on track to eclipse the 2016 election, which generated about $5 million in wagers.
“As a global company, we are seeing huge interest from all over the world,” a William Hill U.K. trader said in an email. “On the main market, we have seen stakes of over ($2.6 million), which is absolutely huge at this early stage. That doesn’t take into account state markets and winning party, etc.
“It is difficult to see one single event being bigger than this in 2020.”
Election betting also is booming at offshore books, which are illegal in the U.S.
“We are currently seeing about a 40 percent increase in betting compared to the same point in 2016,” Bovada oddsmaker Pat Morrow said in an email. “In the remaining run-up to the election, we are currently projecting a 55 percent increase in total volume compared to 2016.
“If these figures hold true, then the 2020 U.S. presidential election will be the second-biggest single betting event at Bovada, falling just short of the Super Bowl last February. This will easily be the most bet political event in the history of Bovada.”
The Super Bowl is the single biggest American sports betting event, with $154.7 million in wagers placed on February’s game at Nevada books.
But if betting on the election were legal in the U.S., it almost certainly would shatter that number and be the biggest betting event in the nation’s history.
“It would be the most popular bet that we offered,” Westgate sportsbook vice president Jay Kornegay said. “Some people believe it would be 10 times over what we handle on the Super Bowl.
“It’s hard to imagine that, but it does make sense because so many more people have an opinion on the presidential election than they do on the Super Bowl.”
South Point oddsmaker Jimmy Vaccaro said the time is ripe for election betting to be legalized in the U.S.
“Every other country in the world benefits from our election except us. That’s insane,” he said. “This whole thing would be an absolute home run.”
The largest obstacle to the approval of election betting in Nevada is the Legislature. According to Nevada Gaming Control Board senior research analyst Michael Lawton, lawmakers, not just gaming regulators, would have to approve the change.
Vaccaro, a Las Vegas bookmaker for the past 41 years, forecasts legal election betting in the U.S. by 2028.
“It’s just a guess, but I would say maybe in the next two elections, eight years tops, someone’s going to have to say soon that we’re passing up a lot of money,” he said.
“If it happens, I think it happens in the next eight years.”
Books need Biden
More than 60 percent of the money and bets are on Trump at William Hill UK and Bovada.
“With the majority of bets being placed on Trump as an underdog, Biden would be the best result for us,” Morrow said.
The majority of the money also is on Trump at Betfair despite a $651,000 wager placed Friday on Biden.
“Trump supporters are true believers like no other previous candidate,” said professional political gambler Paul Krishnamurty, Betfair’s election expert. “Trump is much better known than Biden in Britain, and he engages people like nobody else whether positive or negative.
“He’s driven money into the betting markets due to his huge appeal as the great underdog candidate that pulled off one of the fairy-tale upsets of all time in 2016.”
There have been several swings in the election odds since the beginning of the year, when Trump was a small favorite. Biden’s odds have steadily improved since March.
“Biden’s odds began to improve as the coronavirus pandemic took hold in the U.S., and he became the favorite to win the election in June,” Rosbottom said.
After the first debate Sept. 29, Biden climbed from a -130 favorite to -168 at William Hill. That means that, at -168, a bettor would have to wager $168 to win $100 on Biden.
Biden dropped from a -205 favorite before Thursday’s final debate to -189 afterward at offshore book Pinnacle. But his odds inched back up to -202 on Friday.
Trump improved from a +176 underdog before the debate to +163 afterward. But his odds moved to +174 on Friday.
A bettor who wagers $100 on Trump at +174 odds would win $174.
Betting favorites are expressed with a minus sign and underdogs with a plus sign.
Betfair noted that Trump — with an implied win probability of 34 percent (+188) — still has more than twice the chances of winning than he had 14 days before the 2016 election, when he was +550.
“At this stage in 2016, Trump had just a 15 percent chance of winning, so he is clearly no stranger to producing a stunning comeback,” Rosbottom said. “With key swing states like Florida almost too close to call, the race looks like a good bet to go right to the wire.”
Election night odds
Successful sports bettor David Halpern, who was featured in the Showtime docuseries “Action,” said following the live odds at offshore books on election night are a much better barometer of who will win than the media and polls.
“Offshore sportsbooks are much more in tune with the realistic chances of each candidate,” he said. “It’s amazing that the networks are so far behind the books.”
On election night in 2016, when Trump moved from a +475 underdog to a -900 favorite over the course of three hours, oddsmakers made Trump the favorite well before any news network did.
“In general, throughout the entire election evening, the most sophisticated offshore books were 45 to 90 minutes ahead of what the networks broadcast,” Halpern said. “When Trump was -700, all the networks still declared the election open. But anyone who followed the offshore odds knew Trump was going to win.
“It’s like watching a game live vs. watching it on a delayed feed.”