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Las Vegas oddsmaker changes line on 2020 presidential election

Updated August 24, 2020 - 5:02 pm

After Democratic nominee Joe Biden said in March that he would pick a woman as his running mate, longtime Las Vegas bookmaker Jimmy Vaccaro made the U.S. presidential election a pick’em between Biden and President Donald Trump.

Vaccaro had Biden as a -130 favorite heading into last week’s Democratic National Convention and bumped him up to -135 (and lowered Trump to a +115 underdog) before this week’s Republican National Convention.

“I jacked it up five cents last week after Biden made the best speech of his career,” said Vaccaro, a South Point oddsmaker. “But that doesn’t mean he won’t stumble.

“Personally, I could see this (RNC) sway me to make Biden a bigger favorite or swing back to Trump. We’ll see what happens in the next day or four. Who knows what the hell they’re going to say?”

Vaccaro’s odds are for entertainment purposes only, as U.S. sportsbooks aren’t allowed to take bets on the election. Lawmakers, not just gaming regulators, would have to approve election betting, according to Nevada Gaming Control Board senior research analyst Michael Lawton.

“The biggest question I get asked is, ‘How come we can’t bet on the election?’” Vaccaro said. “It’s like a broken record. It’s a federal law.

“As far as popularity, this would be great for the bookmakers. I’ve never seen so much two-way action. This would make the Super Bowl look very, very pale in comparison. There’s no doubt in my mind. We could be taking money on this four years out.”

Nevada sportsbooks took $154.7 million in wagers on February’s Super Bowl and won $18.8 million.

“If you were allowed to bet on this election or the 2016 election, it would be the biggest-bet event there ever was,” William Hill sportsbook director Nick Bogdanovich said. “Anything with Trump. Trump is very polarizing. 2016 was a bookmaker’s dream.”

Trump was a heavy betting underdog to Hillary Clinton before winning the 2016 election.

Wagering on the U.S. presidential election is legal and popular overseas, where Biden is a -137 favorite and Trump a +120 underdog at William Hill books in the United Kingdom.

UK-based Betfair Exchange reported Monday that it has taken more than $80 million in wagers on the election, including $467,000 on Trump over the weekend.

“Support for Donald Trump in the market is growing, and the president is closing the gap on Joe Biden on a daily basis,” Betfair spokesperson Darren Hughes said in a release. “The sentiment continues to improve for a Trump second term, exemplified by the large-stakes bets being placed despite his odds shortening.”

Global odds have fluctuated, as Trump was once as high as a -170 favorite and Biden was a -170 favorite Aug. 1.

Biden’s odds dropped after he selected Kamala Harris as his running mate Aug. 11. But Vaccaro, who had made Harris the favorite to be named the Democratic vice presidential nominee, said Harris should help Biden’s chances.

“Because I think he needs all the help he can get,” Vaccaro said. “This is it. You’ve got to throw everything you can at it.

“This will be the most tumultuous election we’ve ever been alive for.”

Vaccaro wouldn’t venture a guess as to whether Trump or Biden will close as the favorite.

“I haven’t got a clue. It’s a toss-up,” he said. “I know some people that played both sides. They just hope the election goes off Nov. 3.”

If Biden wins, Vaccaro said he would make Harris the 8-1 favorite to be the first female U.S. president in 2024.

“She’s the favorite in 2024,” he said. “Some people had it as high as 20-1. But a very respected person I know had it at 6-1.”

Contact reporter Todd Dewey at tdewey@reviewjournal.com. Follow @tdewey33 on Twitter.

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