Political betting sites offer odds-on chances on how races will go

Nevermind the polls, several online betting websites already called the races.

According to many, the Republicans will gain a majority in the U.S. House but likely won’t in the Senate, Democrat John Hickenlooper will run away with the race for Colorado governor, and Republican Ken Buck has a better than even chance of defeating U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, the incumbent Democrat in the race.

Those, at least, are some of the predictions on such websites as InTrade.com, PaddyPower.com and PoliticalBetting.com.

In a 2004 paper on the subject, Paul Rhode and Koleman Strumpf, professors of economics at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, said betting on political races isn’t a new phenomenon, but one that dates back more than 150 years.

The two men say political betting was more popular in the days before polling became prevalent, but they still can be uncannily accurate.

During the 2008 presidential race between President Barack Obama and Arizona Sen. John McCain, for example, InTrade predicted the Electoral College vote would be 364 for the Democrat, and 174 for the Republican.

As it turned out, Obama received 365 electoral votes to McCain’s 173.

In this year’s races, InTrade gives Buck a 60 percent chance of winning the U.S. Senate race, and Hickenlooper an 85 percent chance of taking the governor’s chair.

But while other sites have followed InTrade’s lead on the Buck-Bennet race, SBRForum is calling it dead even.

“As for Colorado, many believe it’s going to the GOP automatically, but we like how the Michael Bennet campaign has handled itself and believe he has as equal a shot as Ken Buck,” writes oddsmaker Steve Ricci on SBRForum.com, a sports odds website.

Not all of the betting sites agree, but almost all of them are calling for big gains for the Republican Party in winning back several seats in Washington, D.C.

Several of the sites, which primarily take bets on sporting events, predict the Republicans will retake control of the U.S. House, but have a less-than-even shot of claiming more than 50 seats in the Senate.

What’s the payout? That depends on what odds a particular site offered and how much a bettor put down.

In 2008, the Ireland-based Paddy Power paid out more than $1 million when Obama won, but the website doesn’t say how much it made from people who bet McCain would win the race.

Just this week, Paddy Power, Ireland’s largest bookmaker, surprised everyone there when it called the race for the GOP to win a majority in the U.S. House. As a result, it’s already paid off people who bet on Republicans taking that chamber.

The Irish bookies, however, are still offering 2-9 odds Democrats will retain control of the Senate.


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