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Chris Sieroty

Presidential election wagering in Nevada seen pulling in more publicity than revenue

27 March 2013

LAS VEGAS -- In Europe, it’s known as novelty betting. Bookmakers from Paddy Power plc to William Hill plc post odds and take bets on a variety of activities, from who looks good to win the Nobel Prizes this year to whether Prince Harry’s next girlfriend will be a blonde or a brunette and who might host the Oscars in 2014.

Paddy Power’s favorite to host the Oscars next year is Justin Timberlake at 2-to-1. The odds are 8-to-11 that Harry’s next girlfriend will be a blonde.

But what produces increased publicity if only modest handle for British bookmakers is betting on U.S. politics. And oddsmakers and gaming industry analysts in Las Vegas said that if successful, a Nevada state senator’s efforts to legalize betting on politics will produce more notoriety than revenue.

Paddy Power took in more than $1.6 million in wagers on the 2012 election; William Hill declined to disclose its election revenue.

“I think betting on elections is a good idea,” said Joe Asher, CEO of William Hill U.S. “Wagering on U.S. elections is popular in the United Kingdom, so obviously it will be popular here if done right. When I was in London last fall, I bet on our presidential elections.”

William Hill in London has former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton a 7-to-2 favorite to capture the White House in 2016, while Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., is 6-to-1, and former Florida Republican Gov. Jeb Bush is 9-to-1.

Neither William Hill nor Paddy Power has posted odds on the chances of Nevada’s senators, Republican Dean Heller and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, being elected president in 2016.

“There’s no reason I should have to be in London to place that bet legally,” Asher said. “In addition to the revenue it will generate, it will generate a lot of publicity, as everyone will want to know the latest Vegas odds on the election.”

On Monday, state Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Tick Segerblom, D-Las Vegas, introduced Senate Bill 418, which would legalize betting on federal elections in Nevada.

Bill Lerner, an analyst with Union Gaming Group in Las Vegas, said it’s too early to gauge support for Segerblom’s bill. The bill must pass out of the Senate Judiciary Committee by April 12, or it’s dead for the rest of the session.

“We wouldn’t expect betting on federal elections to be a meaningful overall revenue generator for Nevada casinos,” Lerner said in a report. “That said, it could bring increased visitation and publicity around key federal elections.”

Last year, Nevada’s 182 race and sports books posted $170.06 million in earnings on total handle of $3.44 billion. Of the $170 million, only $10 million was earned from wagers other than football, baseball and basketball.

“This would be a fraction of that,” said David G. Schwartz, director of the Center for Gaming Research at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. “I think as a novelty, people will bet on elections.”

It took two years of lobbying by oddsmakers before the Nevada Gaming Commission approved rules in January 2011 allowing sports books to accept wagers on events other than sports. The catch is that sports books have to receive approval from state gaming regulators and prove that wagering is fair and verifiable.

Since the rules were expanded, not one Las Vegas sports book operator has posted real-money odds on nonsporting events such as “American Idol” or the Westminster Kennel Club dog show.

If politics isn’t your thing, Paddy Power says the odds are 15-to-8 that Apple Inc. shares will close below $400 on Dec. 31. (They closed at $461.14 on Tuesday on the Nasdaq). And it’s 1-to-50 that Princess Leia, Luke Skywalker or Yoda will appear in “Star Wars: Episode VII.”
Presidential election wagering in Nevada seen pulling in more publicity than revenue is republished from