Just a hunch, but you would probably be more likely to head out to vote on election day if you had $500 riding on the outcome. Then again, your vote would likely be closer tied to the betting odds than your political beliefs, which is why betting on political events in illegal in the United States. But one state senator, who has a rather interesting interpretation of election law, is looking to change that.
Nevada state senator Tick Segerblom, from Las Vegas obviously, has introduced a new proposal that would allow betting on national political races to take place in casinos throughout Nevada. Segerblom argues that since political betting is allowed in Europe, Americans are simply going offshore to cash in. This is revenue he believes the United States is missing out on.
“You can bet on the Internet offshore, so it’s crazy not to be able to bet in Nevada,” Segerblom told The Washington Post. “We always want to be number one. When people think of gambling, we want them to think of Vegas.”
Segerblom’s proposal isn’t really all that original. During the 1916 presidential election, which Democratic incumbent Woodrow Wilson swept, over $160 million was bet on the outcome through New York’s stock exchange predecessor. In the early 20th century, before the practice of polling became widespread, gambling odds were often the closest thing campaigns had to help predict election outcomes. Reporters would hound bookies to try to get the names of the big betters, in an attempt to tease out which wealthy benefactor was backing which political camp.
A University of Pennsylvania scholar has studied betting trends in the 21st century, and has found that analyzing the odds for the 2008 election was a better predictor of the outcome of the race than Nate Silver’s famous FiveThirtyEight blog. “All those traders betting on the eventual outcome, I figured, could provide a more accurate synopsis of the race than reading endless blog posts and tweets,” wrote journalist Brad Plumer about his use of betting odds for analysis.
As election law has become more regulated and campaigns more transparent, it’s easy to disregard Segerblom’s proposal as hangover from a previous century. But consider for a moment the fact that in 2012, the Dublin-based betting firm Intrade saw $230 million placed on the outcome of the U.S. presidential election. That’s nearly double what it was a century ago.
Political betting is so popular in fact, that the British site Ladbrokes is already offering odds on the 2016 presidential election. Hillary Clinton, who hasn’t even announced her race yet, is at 6 to 4 odds of winning the whole thing. Marco Rubio and Chris Christie are also being placed at the pretty good odds of 12 to 1. If you feel like taking a risk, first time Senator Cory Booker is at 80 to 1.