Election betting critics come from different places. Some opposition comes from the same resistance to online gambling that critics of online sports betting and online casinos espouse. But the cultural taboo surrounding betting on Midterm election odds or Presidential election odds adds uncertainty and unease that contrasts with attitudes toward sports betting.
In August 2022, Bonus.com surveyed 601 current and potential sports bettors about their attitudes toward election betting. The final question invited survey respondents to list their concerns about election betting, if any. These open-ended answers revealed unease about gambling addiction, election integrity, and gambling on important events.
Online Gambling Worries Some Voters
It’s tempting to assume that critics oppose election betting because of things like the Big Lie and the January 6 attack on the Capitol. While some do, much election betting opposition comes from a universal distaste for online gambling, as represented by these survey respondents:
- A76: “[Children] getting addicted to [election betting].”
- A263: “Addiction to [election betting].”
- A292: “This is a stupid idea. There are enough places to waste your money. I am hoping this survey is joking and no sane people are considering this as something to implement.”
Worries about increased gambling addiction rates are understandable. That’s why so many sports betting bills call for funds dedicated to problem gambling treatment and prevention. (It’s also why states that fail to set that money aside are so alarming.) Others consider gambling a waste of money altogether. These are common arguments against online sportsbooks and online casinos, too.
Election Betting Critics and Political Beliefs
Remaining critics project their beliefs about politics onto their opinions about election betting. They may assume election betting will compromise election integrity, make elections they believe to be corrupt worse, or that elections are too sacred to bet on.
Election Betting Threatens Election Integrity
Elections can determine healthcare coverage for millions of Americans and which conflicts the United States engages in abroad. With such high stakes, it’s critical that election outcomes reflect the will of the people. Unsurprisingly, there’s a large group of election betting critics who worry about electoral impacts, such as the following survey respondents:
- A216: “Rigging.”
- A257: “I just think it would be bad. We have had fixed games in sports ’cause of betting, we don’t need elections that way.”
- A317: “When there is a potential to gain from purposely throwing or losing, there is a potential for fraud and ill intent.”
As referenced, part of this anxiety comes from sports betting scandals. When athletes can throw games and cash in on a bet against the other team, it seems people running for office can do the same.
However, elections are more closely guarded than sports games. On a team of a dozen or so players, one player can make the difference between making the spread or missing it. In contrast, elections are winner-take-all contests among individuals. No team can secure a win despite a weak performance by one candidate.
Even in national races that determine congressional control, the beneficiary of an election betting scandal is unclear. Federal office can put candidates on paths to power and wealth that outweigh whatever a bookie could offer. Financial disclosures can also reveal illegally placed election wagers, questionable revenue, and other irregularities that could catch a brewing scandal.
Properly regulated, election betting shouldn’t pose a threat to US elections. Election betting hasn’t threatened democracy in Canada or the United Kingdom, after all.
Elections Are Too Important to Bet On
Other election betting critics don’t voice concerns about integrity or changed voting behavior. But they can’t name a specific issue with election betting, either. They only charge that elections are too sacred to bet on. These survey respondents show how strong the taboo against election betting can be:
- A105: “It brings indignity to a dignified process.”
- A424: “I’m not sure if gamifying politics is an ethical move. There are people’s livelihoods at stake.”
- A576: “Just don’t know. Seems unethical.”
The United States has had a more prudish culture surrounding sports betting than other countries like the United Kingdom. UK regulations governed its fledging online gambling industry in the mid-2000s while the United States enacted the Unlawful Internet Gaming Act of 2006. US anti-election betting sentiment can even be traced back to the anti-gambling fervor during the Prohibition era.
Election betting has been out of favor for decades. That’s a long time for cultural taboos to cement themselves in the public consciousness. Those long-standing taboos lead to the “just because” opponents of election betting.
Many Types of Election Betting Critics
Election betting lacks the public support that sports betting enjoys. Although they’re more prone to match-fixing, the stakes of major sporting events are far lower than electoral outcomes. Sports betting is an accepted part of sports, and election betting hasn’t gained that same widespread acceptance.
If anyone is serious about legalizing American election betting, they have many objections and much uncertainty to overcome. Election betting isn’t an inevitable consequence of sports betting. The survey results suggest that sports bettors have lines they’re willing to draw between what’s fair game for oddsmakers and what isn’t.