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The first attempt at legal 2020 presidential election betting in the United States fumbled quickly Tuesday evening.
By Wednesday morning, it appears the idea is dead for now.
FanDuel Sportsbook said Tuesday it received approval from the West Virginia Lottery this week to offer presidential election betting. Yet only two hours after announcing the launch, FanDuel abruptly pulled the market at the request of West Virginia officials.
West Virginia Secretary of State Mac Warner released a statement Wednesday making clear election betting is off:
“Gambling on elections has been illegal in West Virginia since 1868. Gambling on the outcome of an election has no place in our American democracy. Not today. Not tomorrow. Not ever.”
“This is a terrible idea. Let’s shut this down right now and be very clear about it.”
Warner plans to investigate what happened leading to the launch. He might not need to look farther than a Wednesday evening statement from the lottery:
West Virginia Lottery Director John Myers acknowledged Wednesday that Governor Jim Justice’s Office had not been informed about the sports betting app FanDuel launching a site for wagering on the 2020 Presidential election and that the decision to do so was a mistake.
Tuesday evening, on its West Virginia platform, FanDuel Sportsbook opened up wagering on the 2020 Presidential election. FanDuel said it had received permission from the West Virginia Lottery. We quickly realized we had made a mistake and the offering was pulled approximately two hours later.
“I didn’t inform the Governor about it,” Myers said. “I thought it would be okay, but after review, it was clearly a mistake. We just screwed up. I didn’t have the authority to do it, it should have never happened and I apologize to everyone.”
“We’re proud to have partnered with the West Virginia Lottery to bring these markets into a legal, regulated sportsbook,” said Mike Raffensperger, CMO of FanDuel Group, in the initial release.
This passage in West Virginia Code appears to prohibit election betting:
Some experts harbor questions about whether presidential election betting can be offered legally. LSR legal writer John Holden said it is unlikely a state can approve a market for election wagering.
“Wagering on political markets is explicitly prohibited by statute in a number of states, and most states have found it incompatible with public policy in a number of other places,” Holden said.
Nevada rejected a proposal for election betting in 2013. This year, Jimmy Vacarro with South Point sportsbook posted 2020 election odds for entertainment purposes. The casino did not accept wagers on those odds.
In a recent LSR article, Holden laid out the primary argument against states posting legal presidential election betting:
Does the CFTC’s rejection of NADEX’s application mean that presidential election wagering is always as a regulated commodity under the Commodities Exchange Act? Not necessarily.
But it is unlikely that any legal operator wants to risk running afoul of financial regulators, and jeopardize their core business in order to offer wagering on the presidential election.
The principal obstacle for wagering on elections in the United States rests at the state level, like with most things in gambling. While some argue that legalized wagering on elections may spur voter turnout, others see it as against the public interest.
FanDuel’s release specified betting on national elections. It noted that “local or state elections are not permitted.”
FanDuel released the categories on which it will accept bets in West Virginia if ultimately allowed:
FanDuel partners with The Greenbrier for WV sports betting. The private resort is owned by the family of Gov. Jim Justice.