DraftKings, BetMGM Sought WV Presidential Election Betting
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FanDuel wasn’t the only bookmaker looking to post 2020 presidential election odds in West Virginia last week. DraftKings and BetMGM also sought approval from the state to take the wagers, according to published reports.
Odds were posted briefly by FanDuel on April 7, but were taken down after the lottery reconsidered its position on approving the new political betting market.
RELATED: 2020 Presidential Election Odds
West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice, whose family owns the Greenbrier Resort that partners with FanDuel and BetMGM, decried the approval on April 8. Justice said he didn’t OK presidential election betting and ordered it taken down, saying he wasn’t informed about the decision. Secretary of State Mac Miller issued a statement saying it’s illegal and “gambling on the outcome of an election has no place in our American democracy. Not today. Not tomorrow. Not ever.”
Erich Zimny, vice president of racing and sports operations at Hollywood Casino & Inn at Charles Town Races which partners with DraftKings, sent an email to lottery officials asking about presidential election betting on April 6, the day before FanDuel posted odds, according to the Wheeling Intelligencer.
“… Both (Hollywood Casino) and DraftKings would like to explore the possibility of offering political props on major election markets,” Zimny wrote in the email, according to The Intelligencer. “We certainly understand and respect that it’s been an area you all have tread lightly on thus far… I realize this would be new ground for us and Lottery but, as you could imagine, in the struggle for markets to bet into these days, we’re looking for what’s out there that could entice some interest.”
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David Bradley, deputy director of security for the West Virginia Lottery, responded to DraftKings and reached out to the other two sportsbooks, according to emails obtained via the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), according to The Intelligencer. Bradley said the lottery was considering allowing wagers on federal political elections, not state or local elections.
In their requests for approval, DraftKings, BetMGM and FanDuel said they would offer bets such as the winner of the presidential election, percentage of votes for each candidate, over/under on the popular vote, Democratic vice president nominee, Senate and House seats by party, and others. The three were given the OK on April 7 offer the markets, with Bradley’s emails saying they were “approved as submitted.”
FanDuel Goes Live With Presidential Odds
FanDuel was briefly the first American sportsbook to offer U.S. presidential election odds that night. But when questions were raised about whether state law allowed for political betting, FanDuel pulled the presidential election odds shortly after posting them, and released the following statement:
"While the markets were approved, the West Virginia Lottery has asked FanDuel to refrain from offering the markets until they have time to fully work through the implications of this new market offering."
Bradley also asked DraftKings and BetMGM on April 7 not to move forward on the offerings, according to the emails.
After the governor and secretary of state made it clear presidential election betting should not be offered, West Virginia Lottery Director John Myers said in a statement on April 8 that he made a mistake by not informing the governor about the decision to allow presidential odds.
“I thought it would be OK, but after review, it was clearly a mistake," Myers said. "We just screwed up. I didn’t have the authority to do it, it should have never happened and I apologize to everyone.”
Political Betting Illegal in WV, US
West Virginia statute 3-9-22 entitled “Wagering Or Betting On Elections; Penalties” seems to spell out that betting on elections is illegal:
”It shall be unlawful to bet or wager money or other things of value on any election held in this state. Any person violating the provisions of this section shall be guilty of a misdemeanor, and, upon conviction, thereof, he shall forfeit the value of the money or thing so bet or wagered and shall be fined not more than $50.”
The West Virginia Secretary of State’s office on April 8 cited an order from the federal Commodity Futures Trading Commission prohibiting trading on political events. The order reads, in part:
“WHEREAS, the Political Event Contracts can potentially be used in ways that would have an adverse effect on the integrity of elections, for example by creating monetary incentives to vote for particular candidates even when such a vote may be contrary to the voter's political views of such candidates.”
Political Betting Is Legal Overseas
In the UK political betting has been legal for years. Sportsbooks like Ladbrokes and 888Sports’ UK-facing site offer markets on political races in the U.S. and all over the world.
U.S sportsbooks have been looking for new betting options with the NBA, NHL, MLB, college sports and just about every sport sidelined since mid-March.
FanDuel, DraftKings and other sportsbooks have expanded their options in recent years to include a select few pre-scripted events, like the Academy Awards, but legal betting on U.S. political races has never happened before.
And after the misstep in West Virginia last week, it could be a long time, if ever, before it is offered again.