Time for Nevada to Spread Political Prop Betting

November 4, 2014
Time for Nevada to Spread Political Prop Betting

Nevada is the U.S. home to sports betting. Federal law allows Nevada to keep this monopoly.

While gamblers can place bets on football, hockey, and basketball at any Nevada sports book today, they cannot place a wager on any elections.

Bets have been placed on political contests for as long as there have been elections. There is nothing more polarizing than a discussion over which party will win a heated race. Some of these debates end with money changing hands when the results are certified.

It is time for Nevada to get in on the action.

State Sen. Tick Segerblom pushed legislation in 2013 that would have legalized this activity. It passed the Nevada Senate by a 14-7 margin. It died in the Assembly Judiciary Committee.

The bill would have allowed betting on federal contests. This would have included presidential elections, as well as U.S. Senate and House of Representative races. Local and state elections would have been excluded.

Bets could have gone beyond just who wins.  Wagers on the margin of victory or number of seats a party wins in an election could also be offered.

Intrade was a popular futures site that specialized in political races. Its prices and trades were often reported by the media during election season. The U.S. Commodities Futures Trading Commission filed a civil suit against Intrade.  The company abruptly left the U.S., its biggest market. It failed a few months later.

Nevada sports books could help fill that void.

Elections are big business for news organizations. Candidates and political action committees spend big money on advertising around Election Day. News programs dedicate special coverage to elections. This is when sports book operators could be interviewed to help promote the activity and Nevada’s gaming industry to regional and national audiences.

This type of novelty betting could produce free advertising to a state that loves to show off its eccentric attitude. This marketing model is exactly what sets Nevada apart from the other 49 states.  It could also help give Nevada an advantage over New Jersey if the leagues end up losing their battle against sports betting expansion.

Political Bets Too Small to Affect Outcome

Some political betting opponents feel that election betting is immoral and could potentially affect outcomes. The best defense to this position is that bet sizes would be irrelevant when compared to the big picture. Wagers would not be accepted on local races where few votes are cast and campaign contributions are small. Tickets would only be written on major national elections.

Betting parlors in Europe have written tickets on U.S. elections for decades. Offshore sites offer political betting as an exotic bet. The maximum bet is typically quite low, with wins capped at $500 or less.

Another rebuttal to this argument is that political betting already exists over the Internet. There has never been any reason to suspect these bets have ever affected the turnout or results in a race.

Nevada Governor Opposed to Political Betting

While there was support for political betting in the Nevada Senate, Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval is opposed to the idea. Gov. Sandoval is expected to win in a landslide over Bob Goodman, his democratic opponent. Goodman lost to the “none of these candidates” option in the democratic gubernatorial primary.

Sandoval told the Las Vegas Sun in 2013, “As I think through it, unless I’m convinced otherwise, it is not something I would support.” Maybe he can be “convinced otherwise” in his second term.

Nevada will only have one shot at legalizing political betting before the 2016 presidential election. The Nevada Legislature only meets in odd years.

Senator Harry Reid comes up for reelection in 2016. Gov. Sandoval could be his opponent.  I can’t help but wonder what odds Nevada sports books would post on that race. The national media would be checking in daily to find out.

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