The US presidential election became the biggest betting event of 2020 by a huge margin after bookmakers took more than £1 billion on the outcome. Betfair reported that customers matched around £400 million worth of wagers on the battle for the White House.
Last week the exchange said the election was already bigger than the World Cup final, the Super Bowl, the Grand National and Mayweather vs. McGregor combined. The handle continued to soar in the build-up, hitting £271 million with two days to go and then surging towards £400 million.
On Sunday, a Betfair customer wagered £1 million on Joe Biden prevailing at odds of 1.54, resulting in a a £540,000 profit after networks declared him to be the winner this weekend. Betfair spokesman Sam Rosbottom said it was the biggest political bet that the exchange had ever matched, but it also took a large number of smaller bets to push the total handle to record levels.
Joe Biden became the presumptive nominee for the Democrats after securing a string of victories over Bernie Sanders in the spring. He was initially installed as the clear underdog, while President Trump was the odds-on favourite to win a second term.
However, the Covid-19 pandemic then swept across the country and lockdowns ravaged the economy. Biden then became the odds-on favourite, and held that status for most of the year.
Trump then gained a boost in August. Black Lives Matter protests had raged across the country, and they erupted again after police in Wisconsin shot a 29-year-old African American man called Jacob Blake in the back. The president launched a “law and order” campaign, and bookmakers responded by slashing the odds on him securing re-election.
By the start of September, Biden had drifted back out to even money, and Trump was odds-on with several betting sites. That would have been a great time to back the former vice president.
They locked horns in the first presidential debate on September 29, and Trump delivered a chaotic performance. He never recovered. The odds on Biden continued to shorten in the ensuing weeks. By the eve of the election, the best price you could find on Biden was 4/7 at William Hill, and most sites had him at 1/2, whereas Trump was out at 2/1.
However, Trump performed far better than expected. By the following morning, he had built up a healthy margin in several key swing states. Biden went out to 2/1, while Trump was the clear favourite.
Yet there was another twist in the tale. Trump had urged his supporters to avoid mail ballots, urging them to vote in person instead, whereas the Democrats had actively encouraged mail voting. Most states counted in-person votes first, so Biden began chipping away at Trump’s lead when the mail votes were counted. The writing was on the wall, and by Thursday morning he was priced at just 1/9 to win, but anyone that bet on him on Wednesday morning would have been laughing all the way to the bank.
Ladbrokes Coral owner GVC said the bettors wagered twice as much on the election as they did in 2016, when Trump beat Hillary Clinton. “This is a huge market,” said Matthew
Shaddick, head of political betting, in an AFP interview. “It is twice as big as 2016, easily making it the biggest political event ever. It might be the biggest ever market on anything pretty much and outstrip football worldwide. I guess a billion pounds is being bet.”
Shaddick reported that 70% of bets at Ladbrokes, Coral, Bwin and Sportingbet went on Trump, despite his underdog status. He said the level of confidence in him winning was “astonishing”.
“A whole new universe of bettors won last time,” said Shaddick. “These are people who go for their gut feelings and instincts. They believe there are millions of shy Trump voters.” Yet that confidence ultimately proved unfounded, making it a great result for GVC.
William Hill said it also expects the election to be its biggest event of the year, following the cancellation of money-spinners such as the Grand National due to Covid-19. “The figures are simply astounding,” said international spokesman Rupert Adams.
He added that the huge handle was a result of Trump’s colourful personality. “There is no doubt the fact he is such a colourful character makes it appealing for people who would otherwise be uninterested,” said Adams. “If it was Jeb Bush versus Biden, we would be taking a third of the turnover.”