Election Betting: Big Risks, Big Rewards

It was in early 1992, just after the successfully concluded Gulf War, when the first President Bush had a popularity rating of 90 percent that Roxy Roxborough, the nation's preeminent price maker at the time, came under fire for political future book betting odds he'd posted on the upcoming US presidential election. Roxborough had listed Bush at odds of 3/5 to win re-election.

"I'd go broke if I posted that high a price," fumed the head of a well-known international bookmaking company. "Bush should be 1/10."

We know now that Bush's popularity quickly declined and that former Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton, the nominee of the Democratic Party, denied Bush a second term and won the election handily.

Yes, things can change rapidly in politics (just ask once powerful New York Governor Eliot Spitzer), making the practice of betting politics fraught with risk but, as those who took Clinton at opening future book odds of 40/1 can attest, also brimming with the potential for reward.

In that regard, presidential election future book betting is a lot like Kentucky Derby future book betting: If your horse, er, candidate, drops out, you don't get your money back.

By the way, months after the 1992 election, Roxborough happened to meet the same bookmaking company executive at a party. The administrator, who had lost a bundle by not having Bush at a more realistic price, never apologized to Roxborough and Roxborough, to his lasting credit, never mentioned the incident. Clearly, when it comes to oddsmakers and odds takers, neither regret nor revelry are appropriate responses.

Which brings us to the US presidential election of 2008, a curious affair in which political bettors--even though the process is late in the calendar--still have three, not two, candidates from which to choose.

John McCain has sewn up the Republican nomination but Barack Obama, who in 2005, like President Clinton in 1989, opened as a 40/1 future book longshot, and Hillary Clinton, the early 6/1 favorite in a field of more than 60 original hopefuls, continue their self-destructive battle for the Democratic nod.

The presence of three viable presidential candidates only has helped enhance bettors' options as bookmakers scramble to cover every possible matchup.

Obama, who has the delegate and popular vote lead among Democrats and is a -350 favorite (bet $350 to win $100) to beat Clinton, the +250 underdog (bet $100 to win $250) for their party's nomination, opened as a -220 favorite over McCain in a general election. McCain was listed at +180. However, current events, including provocative remarks made by Obama's pastor, have questioned the squeaky clean image of the Illinois Senator and oddsmakers have, accordingly, reduced Obama's price to -190 while altering McCain's chances to +150.

Gamblers also can bet into a three-person presidential future book where Obama is even money, McCain is +145 and Clinton is +350.

Some books also are offering what is called a "straight forecast," a future book wager similar to picking one of five possible outcomes to a boxing match (boxer "Jones" by KO or TKO, boxer "Jones" by decision, boxer "Smith" by KO of TKO, boxer "Smith" by decision, draw):

Obama to beat McCain-110
McCain to beat Obama+225
Clinton to beat McCain+400
McCain to beat Clinton+700

If that's not enough action for your political wagering palate, you can try odds on who will be chosen for Vice President. It's a bit trickier on the Democratic side where Obama and Clinton would choose different people to support their ticket. Obama might opt for Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius, an early supporter and the 7/2 favorite to get the second spot. Virginia Senator Jim Webb and New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson each are listed at odds of 7/1 and, since neither has endorsed a candidate, could wind up on either ticket. Interestingly, both Clinton (5/1) and Obama (6/1) also are on the Vice Presidential future book list as candidates for each other in a fusion ticket.

McCain's list of likely running mates includes governors Tim Pawlenty (Minnesota), the 3/1 favorite, and Charlie Crist (Florida) the 4/1 second choice.

Bettors needing to scratch a more immediate wagering itch also can take a shot on which Democratic candidate wins upcoming primary contests in Pennsylvania, Indiana, North Carolina, Kentucky, Oregon and West Virginia.

In that regard, election betting offers the gambler a coast-to-coast chance to match bucks to ballot results.