FanDuel Pulls 2020 Presidential Election Betting In West Virginia Amid Legal Questions

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election betting

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.

WV backlash strong and swift

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.”

Quickly evolving situation in West Virginia

Tuesday’s launch rapidly became clouded by questions of whether the launch should have occurred. A spokesman for the lottery sent this message to PlayWV about an hour after FanDuel’s initial release:

“It is my understanding that we were asked by the sportsbooks to allow betting on the presidential election and it is being reviewed. I think possibly someone jumped before being given an approval.”
Just hours after announcing the election betting news, FanDuel issued a follow-up statement:

“While the markets were approved, the West Virginia Lottery has asked FanDuel to refrain from offering the markets until they have time to fully work through the implications of this new market offering.”

Shortly after FanDuel released that comment, the lottery followed with this statement to LSR:

“The markets were initially approved, however the West Virginia Lottery has asked FanDuel to refrain from offering the markets until we have time to fully work through the implications and research it further.”

Before the odds went away …

FanDuel Sportsbook said in an earlier press statement that it would begin accepting wagers on the election today. Some bettors first reported the odds were taken down as of 8:30 p.m. ET.

No legal US sportsbook offers election betting.

“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.

Is US election betting legal?

This passage in West Virginia Code appears to prohibit election betting:

“It shall be unlawful to bet or wager money or other thing of value on any election held in this state. Any person violating the provisions of this section shall be guilty of a misdemeanor, and, upon conviction thereof, he shall forfeit the value of the money or thing so bet or wagered and shall be fined not more than $50.”

It defines an election as “every general, primary, or special election held in this state, or in any of its subdivisions, for the purpose of nominating or electing federal or state officers …”

Experts unsure WV is compliant

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.

Why no state offered presidential betting before

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.”

2020 presidential election betting markets

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.