Betting on the U.S. election: How online gamblers are stacking the odds

There’s a lot riding on the 2020 U.S. election. For gamblers, it’s a particular kind of high stakes.

With a day to go before the Nov. 3 election day, betting companies say they’re still seeing bets pour in.

For U.K.-based Betfair Exchange, the matchup between U.S. President Donald Trump and former vice-president Joe Biden has become the single biggest betting event of all time, according to the betting company. As of Nov. 1, Betfair said more than £250 million (C$428 million) had been wagered — 25 per cent more than its previous all-time record, including sports.

The second-largest betting event for Betfair Exchange was the 2016 U.S. presidential election, when gamblers wagered £199 million (C$340 million) before Trump beat Hillary Clinton.

This time around, Biden appears to be a clear favourite in online betting markets.

Currently, Betfair’s odds favour Biden at 66 per cent. Trump, the incumbent, has a 35 per cent chance. Despite the stark difference, Trump’s prospects were actually an improvement from the weekend, when his odds were at 34 per cent.

Betters on the U.K. exchange Smarkets also saw Trump’s odds jump slightly on the same level.

On Bookies.com, as of Oct. 29, Trump was still a +160 underdog, meaning if you bet $100 you win $160. Biden is a -190 favourite, so if you bet $190 you win $100.

The odds were similar across other betting companies.

BetOnline, an offshore operation in Panama, told Forbes that Biden is the slight favourite, at 54 per cent, and that just over 70 per cent of the money wagered so far is on Trump to win.

The company’s sportsbook manager told Forbes a surge of bets has been placed on Trump to win over the past few days.

“We saw this same scenario playing out in 2016,” Dave Mason said.

That’s reflected in OddsChecker.com’s analysis, as well. Over the weekend, Trump made up 66 per cent of bets placed and 53 per cent of the money wagered. For Biden, that was more like 31 per cent and 46 per cent, respectively.

Betfair Exchange saw its biggest political bet of all time on the election eve, with one person putting down a £1-million (C$1.7-million) bet on Biden. Should Biden win, the player would take home £1.5 million (C$2.5 million).

Betfair says it accepts bets right up until the result is announced. They expect the total amount to reach the £400-million mark (C$680 million) by election day’s end.

Single-event sports betting is not entirely legal in Canada at this time. According to the Criminal Code of Canada, wagers on the result of a single sports event are prohibited, however, there has been a years-long effort to have that redacted.

Bill C-218 was introduced by two MPs earlier this year, but it never got further than its first reading in February before the COVID-19 pandemic struck.

However, PlayNow.com, British Columbia’s legal sports gambling website owned by the provincial government, is offering bettors the opportunity to gamble on the political showdown. The BCLC was the first jurisdiction in Canada to offer novelty betting on the U.S. election, back in 2014.

PlayNow.com has Trump’s current odds at 2.35 and Biden’s at 1.58.

— with files from Reuters

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