West Virginia Records Show Political Betting Approved, Then Rescinded, One Day After Initial Proposal

Posted on: April 15, 2020, 03:31h. 

Last updated on: April 15, 2020, 11:17h.

An open records request by a West Virginia newspaper shows that state lottery officials did indeed initially approve letting the sportsbooks offer political betting earlier this month before backtracking just hours later.

West Virginia Political Betting
Joe Biden, seen here at his Vice Presidential swearing-in ceremony on Jan. 20, 2013 – a day before the public inauguration – is the presumptive nominee for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination. However, bettors in West Virginia will not get a chance to place a bet on him or President Donald Trump after the state lottery rescinded approval of political betting. (Image: David Lienemann/White House)

The Parkersburg News and Sentinel obtained emails from the West Virginia Lottery that show an official with the Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Races made the initial inquiry about political betting on April 6. Located in the far eastern portion of the state, the casino has a relationship with DraftKings, which runs its online sportsbook.

The request came as the COVID-19 outbreak has brought gaming activity to a near standstill. The brick-and-mortar casinos and sportsbooks are closed by a state order seeking to contain the spread of the coronavirus.

DraftKings and the other two mobile sports betting applications – FanDuel and BetMGM – remain open. However, with all US major professional sports shut down, their markets to customers is limited to some futures betting in mainstream sports, opportunities on obscure sports, and low-tier foreign leagues.

We certainly understand and respect that it’s (political betting) 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,” wrote Erich Zimmy, Hollywood’s vice president for racing and sports to lottery officials, according to an email obtained by the paper.

According to the email exchange, DraftKings estimated it could garner a handle as large as $1 million if it was allowed to take bets by May 1, which is about $400,000 more than what the company took in Super Bowl bets from the state.

All Parties Interested

It sought to offer not only markets on the upcoming presidential election, but US House and Senate races as well. Proposition bets would have included turnout percentage, totals on House and Senate seats for each party, and totals on Electoral College votes.

While the law the West Virginia Legislature approved two years ago defines a sporting event as “any professional sport or athletic event, any collegiate sport or athletic event, any motor race event, or any other special event authorized by” the state Lottery Commission, a law that outlaws betting on elections has been on the state books for more than 150 years.

Documents show that by the following day, April 7, West Virginia officials countered limiting markets to just the presidential race, including primaries, and totals on the House, Senate, Electoral College, and states won by each candidate.

As Casino.org learned and reported, the opportunity to offer political betting was extended to the other mobile sportsbooks on April 7, and both accepted the same day.

FanDuel became the first to list presidential markets on its sportsbooks. But records show that state lottery officials then asked the sportsbooks to cease later that same evening. FanDuel also told Casino.org that the bets it took while odds were posted were canceled and refunded.

Both BetMGM and DraftKings told Casino.org that, while they also received approval, they were holding off posting odds for the time being.

Political Betting Now Unlikely for US Sportsbooks in 2020

By the next day, other West Virginia leaders not in the document chain, including Gov. Jim Justice, made public statements denouncing the move. That led to West Virginia Lottery Director John Myers issuing a public apology that afternoon, saying the lottery “just screwed up.”

That screw up will likely have implications on the US sports betting industry and what it can offer in the months ahead, regardless of what the sports landscape looks like.

Well before the West Virginia snafu, both FanDuel and DraftKings made their intentions clear that they wanted to offer political betting to their US customers. They have cited the popularity of the market in Europe as an example of what it could mean here in the States.

Even with states losing precious gaming tax dollars because of the COVID-19 outbreak, it’s unlikely any will want to move forward, at least in this cycle. Both Indiana and New Jersey offered betting on the Academy Awards this year. But when Casino.org reached out, officials from both states quickly shot down the notion they’d entertain offering odds on elections.

There’s still interest, though, from the bettors’ perspective, and for now, outside of the offshore sportsbooks, the only way Americans can bet on politics is by setting up an account on the trading market site PredictIt.

There, as of 5 a.m. ET Wednesday morning, shares for President Trump were trading at 49 cents, while Joe Biden’s stock was trading at 44.