Betting on the outcome of elections across the world has been a part of the culture in many countries for decades, but it hasn’t been a regular part of American betting culture to date. And with the exception of the occasional London-based correspondent taking a camera into a betting shop, the coverage of wagering on elections has been pretty sparse in the United States as well.
But while it is illegal to bet on the outcome of elections using regulated sports betting apps and vendors in the United States, that doesn’t mean it hasn’t been happening behind closed doors forever. There have been markets for election betting at least since Ulysses S. Grant defeated Horatio Seymour in 1868 for the White House. As much as $271 million in 2022 dollars were wagered in organized New York markets for the 1916 Presidential election, which in a pre-campaign, finance-reform system was actually twice as much as the campaigns spent themselves.
And those markets were pretty accurate in an analog world as well; that 1916 race where Woodrow Wilson was victorious was the only time the backroom odds didn’t select the correct winner for generations.
From a regulated market perspective, there are very limited outlets for Americans to bet on who their leaders will be. Both the Iowa Electronic Markets and PredictIt are permitted to accept election bets due to No Action letters from the Commodity Futures Trading Commission. Both are sites that can be used for research purposes amongst academics, and thus are permitted by the federal government.
But those sites also limit how much exposure one person can have to any specific betting market to just $850, as that’s the most an individual can invest to win on the outcome of the election in general. But there are ways to get more action via betting on individual states, the margin of victory, and other markets created by both sites.
While there is no federal prohibition on election betting as of yet, no state or jurisdiction in the United States has allowed it. The Nevada Gaming Control board rejected a proposal nine years ago, and a quick dalliance with election betting was squashed in West Virginia in 2020.
The province of Ontario in Canada has recently legalized betting on elections in the United States, and the other 12 provinces will have the option to do so as well. But we haven’t seen wagering on Canadian ridings or premiers for domestic races north of the border.
And if you’re not in the United States, markets such as BetFair are available for most residents of Europe and other jurisdictions in the rest of the world.
But above-board political betting, as is common in London during House of Commons elections, just isn’t a thing in the United States. It’s yet to be seen if any state empowered by the expansion of regulated sports betting across America since the rejection of PAPSA by the Supreme Court in 2018 will make that change anytime soon.