Sports bookies have a hot tip for the professional pollsters scratching their heads over yet another disastrous round of election-year prognostications:
Maybe you should follow the money next time.
One post-election analysis shows that gambling houses around the world outperformed the U.S. polling industry when it came to the election earlier this month.
Betting data more accurately predicted the results on Nov. 3 than polling data did, according to US-Bookies.com, a website that reviews bookmakers. A look at the pre-election odds for presumptive President-elect Joseph R. Biden and President Trump shows that the betting favorite won 49 of the 50 states, with Georgia the only state to buck the trend — though that could change, depending on how the president’s ongoing legal challenges pan out.
Gambling industry officials have theories on why their predictions are more reliable than the pollsters — and it’s all about the Benjamins.
“Anybody can say they’re voting for whomever, people come out of polls and give wrong information, whatever,” said Dave Mason, a SportsBook Brand Manager for BetOnline.ag. “When people are actually putting money down, that speaks volumes, right?”
Comparing betting odds and poll predictions is tricky, though.
Jack Watson, a political betting analyst for US-Bookies.com, said pollsters and bookmakers go about things in different ways. That can lead to variances.
“It’s hard to say if one’s better than the other because they’re two very different things,” Watson said. “They use different mathematics to come up with their solutions, and they are actually showing different things. So a poll would show voter intention and the odds would show the probability of an outcome.
“Betting can be accurate, polls can be accurate — they both called for a Biden win,” Watson continued.
Some major polls skewed more favorably toward Biden, however.
In the 2016 presidential election, most polls and bookmakers backed Hillary Clinton in a landslide over Trump. A Trump loss was considered such a done deal that Irish betting company Paddy Power paid out bets for Mrs. Clinton before Election Day.
This time around, the final betting odds predicted Mr. Biden would capture 310 electoral votes to win the election compared to Mr. Trump’s 228, while some polls predicted a more lopsided Mr. Biden victory, winning as many as 352 electoral votes.
As the Electoral College stands now, Mr. Biden would get 306 to Mr. Trump’s 232, pointing to the accuracy of the betting odds.
Bookmakers do pay attention to polls, particularly in key battleground states. But what has the biggest influence over odds is what Mr. Mason called “sharp money.” Those are bets placed by sharp bettors — long-term winners who wait for the best odds, trying to create an edge over bookmakers.
“The sharp money was all over Biden,” Mr. Mason said.
The odds US-Bookies.com analyzed came from wagers placed outside the U.S., because betting on most nonsporting events — such as the election — isn’t legal in any state.
The interest in political betting has gradually increased since the mid-2000s, Mr. Watson said, and some of the recent political developments have offered further boons in bets. Mr. Trump winning the 2016 election and the United Kingdom holding the EU Referendum vote were “seismic events,” Mr. Watson said.
Mr. Mason said this year’s action was like nothing he’d seen before in the four election cycles he’d been a part of.
“If someone said, ‘Hey, do you wanna bet that this will be larger than the Super Bowl?’ I would’ve lost a lot of money on that bet,” Mason said. “This was as big as the last two Super Bowls combined, that’s how big this election was. It was absolutely insane. … 2016 was just crazy. And this year, 2020, was crazy on steroids.”
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