West Virginia Poised to Become First State to Allow Political Gambling

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West Virginia appears poised to become the first state in the U.S. to allow gambling on politics, a move that would let people turn their Trump-versus-Biden predictions into cash.

The West Virginia Lottery, which oversees betting in the state, said Tuesday that officials initially approved a plan to let FanDuel Inc. and other sportsbooks offer political wagers, but needed time “to fully work through the implications and research it further.”

In a bizarre sequence earlier in the day, FanDuel went ahead and began offering bets on the presidential election, thinking it already had the approval it needed. But it halted the wagers after about 40 minutes and refunded customers’ money.

If the plan goes forward, it raises a number of questions, including whether other states will follow, and what — if anything — the federal government may say about it. The Commodity Futures Trading Commission has said in the past that gambling on elections shouldn’t be allowed.

According to the odds that FanDuel posted Tuesday, President Donald Trump is a slight favorite to win re-election, at -110. That means a $110 bet would turn a $100 profit. Senator Joe Biden, the likely Democratic nominee, has +125 odds, meaning a $100 bet would win $125.

In the 2016 presidential election, Trump won West Virginia easily, garnering more than two-thirds of the vote.

FanDuel said it had plans to also let customers wager on who the Democratic vice presidential nominee will be and other national contests. And DraftKings Inc., a FanDuel rival, said it’s assessing the situation.

“While we are excited about the possibility of offering odds on politics and elections to our customers in West Virginia, we are taking the time to ensure we evaluate the opportunity thoroughly before posting any lines,” said Matt Kalish, the company’s North American president.

Betting on politics has long been considered a massive opportunity for sportsbooks, given the interest and media attention that national elections command. Jimmy Vaccaro, oddsmaker at the South Point sportsbook in Las Vegas, said in September that betting on the election would be “bigger than anything we’ve ever done.”

FanDuel is a subsidiary of Flutter Entertainment Plc, which owns a number of betting properties, including Betfair, Paddy Power and the Stars Group.

In 2016, Betfair customers in the U.K. could already wager on the U.S. election. Gamblers plunked down almost 200 million pounds ($247 million), which the company said “obliterated the record for the most money ever to be traded on any political or sporting event.”

Political wagers also could be a significant new funding source for cash-strapped states.

With almost all global sports in a dark period because of Covid-19, betting operators have been working with state regulators on what else they can offer their clients. Esports, which has competitions ongoing, has been a popular addition. Operators also pondering entertainment options, such as wagering on reality shows.

Companies have already been running free-to-play politics pools, which don’t have the same regulatory hurdles as actual gambling. DraftKings, for example, did one of those pools around the most recent Democratic debate.

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