Vegas won't take bets on Trump-Clinton
A week or two ago I read one of your Mail Tribune 100 columns about the 1916 presidential election campaign and the column listed gamblers' odds on the candidates, Woodrow Wilson (the Democrat and the MT's favorite) and Charles Evan Hughes, the Republican). I imagine Nevada casinos run a book on the presidential race today, but I never see the odds posted. Can you tell us how the bookmakers are calling the Clinton v. Trump race?
— A.H., by email
A.H., after reading your question, we imagined the same thing — there must be Vegas' odds on the presidential race. Turns out, we were both wrong.
The bookmakers in Vegas and elsewhere in Nevada are prohibited by the state from taking bets on anything outside of sporting events. We got a bit of history on that from the website fivethirtyeight.com, which is considered a heavyweight among the political poll crunchers. Here's the story in brief:
Even sports betting was relatively rare in Nevada prior to the 1970s, due to a high tax rate. But prompted by a Nevada congressman, the tax rate was lowered and sport betting began in earnest in the mid-'70s.
Bookmakers decided they could expand their reach by offering odds on other events, for instance, where the falling U.S. space station Skylab would hit the Earth. In 1980 they offered odds on who shot J.R. on the TV show "Dallas." It was a popular bet, but was the undoing of non-sports betting after it turned out that TV insiders who knew the answer were among the bettors.
In 1985, a rule limiting betting to competitive sporting events was finalized. A few exceptions have been granted for off-the-field competitions like picking the Heisman Trophy winner or the Cy Young Award winner. The law, however, specifically prohibits wagering on “the outcome of any election for any public office both within and without the state of Nevada.”
But there are odds to be had elsewhere as Nevada's gambling brethren in the United Kingdom have no such limitations. Four online gambling sites there all list Clinton as the favorite, although her standing among bettors has slipped in the past week. In terms of payout for three sites combined (as of this past weekend), you would have to bet $15 on Clinton to win $7, while you could bet $7 on Trump for the chance of winning $20, making Trump the longer shot by a considerable margin. One other site puts the likelihood of Clinton winning at 75 percent.
You can't place a bet at fivethirtyeight.com, but the poll crunchers there put Clinton's likelihood of winning at just under 65 percent.
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