2008 Presidential Election Betting Hits The Online Sportsbook Campaign Trail

Not that members of the sports betting industry needed it but when Chris Matthews, the loquacious and assertive host of MSNBC's Hardball, quoted odds on the 2008 race for President of the United States, the practice of betting on elections gained a measure of acceptability.

Election betting is not new. In fact, Las Vegas oddsmaker Jimmy "The Greek" Snyder gained fame and credibility (which later led to a spot on CBS' NFL preview show) when, after noting that women did not trust men who wore mustaches, boldly predicted that underdog incumbent President Harry S. Truman would defeat New York Governor Thomas E. Dewey in the race for the Oval Office in 1948. Or so the story goes.

The irony is that Nevada sportsbooks do not accept wagers on elections. The often cited reason is not that, like entertainment award voting such as the Oscars, that someone knows the results of the balloting in advance, but that there is something queasy about mixing gambling and politics.

Yeah, right.

Certainly, most online sportsbooks outside the jurisdiction of the Silver State have little difficulty in posting futures on who will win the next four-year lease at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. The process, which should come to a conclusion when delegate-rich states such as California, New York and Florida vote next February, already is underway with 10 Republicans and eight Democrats vying for the prize. Each party field could grow and there also is the possibility for a fusion ticket or an independent candidacy.

Generally, online sportsbooks attack the 2008 election in one of three ways. The simplest way is to post a generic proposition on which party will win the White House. Led by a President with record low approval ratings and saddled with an increasingly unpopular war in Iraq, the Republicans are clear underdogs to maintain control in 2008, usually listed as +140 underdogs (bet $100 to win $140). On the other hand, Democrats, with their base more energetic and independent voters tracking in their direction, are quoted as -160 favorites (bet $160 to win $100) to regain control of the Oval Office.

Could someone unaligned with either of the major parties, such as an independent or a third party candidate, win? You can get +5250 on that remote possibility.

Many online sportsbooks also boast separate future books for Democrats and Republicans. Although she voted to authorize the Iraq war, a very unpopular position among party activists, New York Senator and former First Lady Hillary Clinton heads the list of Democrats, usually at odds around 4/5. Representing a younger generation, Illinois Senator Barack Obama is the clear second choice at 5/2 with former North Carolina Senator John Edwards, 5/1, and as yet unannounced candidate, former Vice President Al Gore, offered from a low of 4/1 to a high of 10/1. New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson, who widely is viewed as an ideal vice presidential choice, Senators Chris Dodd (CT) and Joe Biden (DE), former Senator Mike Gravel (Alaska) and Congressman Dennis Kucinich, are longshots.

Despite holding liberal to moderate views on many social issues, such as abortion, gay rights and gun control, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani is a 7/5 favorite to get the nod of the largely conservative GOP to run for President. Arizona Senator John McCain, who holds an unpopular position on immigration, is the 5/2 second choice with former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, whose positions have evolved (his detractors would say "flip-flopped") is quoted at 4/1 with former Tennessee Senator Fred Thompson likely to enter the race in July at about the same odds as Romney.

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, would enter the race at about 15/1 should he diced to run, ahead of previously announced candidates such as former Governors Mike Huckabee (AK) and Tommy Thompson WI), Senator Sam Brownback (KS), and Representatives Duncan Hunter, Ron Paul and Tom Tancredo.

Senator Chuck Hagel (NE), 30/1, could enter the race as either a Republican or as an independent.

The third way online sportsbooks offer Presidential election futures is to lump all the candidates together in one massive book. The difference between this type of book and the separate party books is the same as the difference between World Series and pennant futures; more risk but more reward in going for the whole enchilada.

Clinton is the favorite in the big book, usually at about 2/1. Giuliani checks in next at odds of 7/2 with Obama at 4/1, McCain at 6/1, Romney and Gore at 8/1.

As the 2008 election draws nearer, many online sportsbooks will add key Senate, House and Governor races to their wagering menu, providing even more options to election betting.