In an August 2022 survey, Bonus.com found that 52% of respondents who identify as sports bettors or are interested in sports betting would bet on elections if election betting was legal.
However, only 40% of respondents thought that election betting should be legal. Another 38% thought that election betting should remain illegal. The remaining portion of respondents was unsure.
With the wave of sports betting legalization taking place across the United States, election betting could be the next front of gambling expansion debates simmering beneath the surface. The simultaneous support for and unease about election betting makes its future even murkier.
Bonus.com commissioned and conducted a survey through Pollfish. The survey polled 601 current and potential sports bettors across the United States. Respondents who do not bet on sports and who are uninterested in betting on sports were disqualified from the survey. The survey’s margin of error was 5%.
Key survey findings include:
- 53% of respondents would be more likely to vote in an election they bet on
- 52% of respondents believe election betting would harm election integrity
- 45% of respondents would not bet on a candidate they voted against
- 43% of respondents would not vote against a candidate they bet on
These responses show that many potential election bettors would choose the same candidate at a sportsbook and the polls. Many amateur sports bettors bet the same way on sports. However, the amount of uncertainty many respondents felt about election betting was more telling than the level of support for it.
“This survey really highlights how sports bettors can identify the types of bets that can harm the integrity of a competition,” Mike Epifani, news editor and content manager of Bonus.com, said. “Outside of politics, sports bettors generally support other integrity-protecting restrictions, such as the inability to wager on player injuries. Gambling should complement the sport, not make it harder to take seriously. It seems to be the consensus that the ability to gamble on politics would add yet another red flag to an already-fraught political climate.”
Uncertainty about US Election Betting
A 2019 American Gaming Association poll found that 79% of surveyed Americans supported legalizing sports betting. Those surveyed Americans had little uncertainty about where they stood on sports betting.
Americans have far more mixed feelings about election betting. About 21% of surveyed bettors were unsure whether election betting should be legal. That leaves room for many Americans to be swayed one way or the other about election betting.
Other countries make the case for election betting. The United Kingdom has allowed election betting for decades without election integrity issues. Further, public confidence in election integrity remains high. In 2022, the UK Electoral Commission found that 79% of UK bettors agreed that votes were counted accurately. Only 8% of respondents disagreed that votes were accurately counted.
(UK respondents who disagreed that votes were counted accurately were more likely to list social media as their main news source. Respondents who agreed that votes were counted accurately listed social media as their “sixth main news source.”)
Part of the reason UK bettors don’t mind election betting is that UK bettors wager millions on American elections. UK bettors won’t sway their own elections by wagering on another country’s elections.
However, UK sportsbooks offer lines on parliamentary elections, too. That can be explained by the United Kingdom’s gambling culture. As the United Kingdom regulated online gambling to make it safe and available for its bettors, the United States restricted online gambling and made it illegal for gambling businesses to operate over the internet.
UK gambling regulators have been more open to online gambling than their American counterparts. Its thriving election betting market shows how voters can maintain confidence in their elections while participating in election betting. The UK gambling market’s maturity goes a long way toward explaining its embrace of election betting compared to Americans’ reluctance to allow it.
US Election Betting Critics Worry about Election Integrity
Many of the open-ended survey responses raised concerns about election integrity, increased political violence, and the ethics of betting on elections.
Some respondents worried that election betting would give voters more reasons to doubt election outcomes. They were concerned that allowing voters to gain financially from the election would lead to skewed election results.
Others worried that increased doubts about election integrity could lead to violence over lost wagers. Concerns about “more riots” were prevalent among the respondents whose answers speculated about political violence.
However, many open-ended respondents were unsettled by the thought of election betting. Skeptical responses included:
- It brings indignity to a dignified process
- Just doesn’t seem normal or traditional.
- Down deep in my gut it feels wrong. It is unsettling.
- It doesn’t seem very acceptable. It’s an election [that decides] the fate of our country. It isn’t a sport.
Making a game out of elections unsettles many critics. Some of these concerns may stem from the state of American democracy rather than concerns about turning elections into a game. Events like the January 6 riot and the emergence of Trump’s “Big Lie” make toxic politics a tempting explanation.
However, the United States has a prudish approach to gambling compared to mature markets like the United Kingdom. American reluctance to allow new types of gambling is built into American culture. It’s as unsurprising for sports bettors to express unease about election betting as it is to see states take different approaches to sports betting legalization.
Americans also view politics as more consequential than sports. Voting in an election that sets the course of civil rights, healthcare, and economic issues is more impactful than betting on a favored sports team. Turning crucial voting decisions into a game can seem like a cheapening of hard-won democratic rights.
Whatever their reasons, American critics of election betting offer compelling reasons to keep gambling out of politics.
American Democracy and Election Betting
Attitudes about American election betting can’t be separated from concerns about American democracy. Many current and potential sports bettors struggle to justify election betting when one of the major parties has devalued elections.
An Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research found that only 33% of Republicans believed that Joe Biden was legitimately elected in 2020. 65% of Republicans believed Biden’s election did not win legitimately.
There’s likely some correlation between acceptance of election betting and confidence in American democracy. But sports betting has faced the same questions about maintaining contest integrity after introducing gambling. The stakes of a fixed professional sports match are high, but sports are entertainment. Elections can decide which countries receive aid or go to war. Consequently, bettors who embraced sports betting rejected election betting.
Although bettors would bet on elections if available, most are not ready to legalize election betting. That hasn’t stopped the brewing demand from briefly surfacing. When West Virginia legalized sports betting, it allowed political betting for about an hour before the Governor demanded the election markets closed.
With some demand for election betting stirring within the country’s sports betting markets, it’s a matter of time before a state official tries legalizing election betting again.
Bonus.com collected survey responses from 601 sports bettors across the United States in August 2022. Respondents who did not bet on sports and were not interested in betting on sports were excluded from the survey.
Of the 601 respondents, 48% were male and 52% were female. The age demographics broke down as follows:
- 25-34 35%
- 35-44 36%
- 45-54 16%
- 55+ 13%
For access to the full PDF of the Bonus.com survey results, contact Lindsay Goldner ([email protected]).