Presidential Election Betting Asks In West Virginia Approved In An Hour, Emails Show

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DraftKings and BetMGM joined FanDuel in seeking approval to offer 2020 presidential election betting from West Virginia regulators, new documents show.

Emails between West Virginia Lottery officials and representatives of the bookmakers surfaced Monday on Document Cloud, a sharing platform for journalists.

Covering a period from April 6-8. the messages paint a scene of eager operators, hasty regulators, and immediate backtracking by West Virginia officials after FanDuel’s election launch last Tuesday:

By the following morning, Secretary of State Mac Warner issued a scathing statement condemning election betting as “illegal” and a “terrible idea.” Hours later, WV Lottery director John Myers took responsibility for the fiasco.

Here’s how the situation developed:

What first WV election betting emails reveal

The first email in the file is a joint request from DraftKings and PNG submitted by Erich Zimny, vice president of racing and sports operations for Hollywood Casino. The ask goes to David Bradley, deputy director of security for the lottery.

Dated April 6 at 3:56p EDT, the message highlights the uncertainty around election betting and the sportsbooks’ struggle to find markets during the coronavirus pandemic:

“… both us and DraftKings would like to explore the possibility of offering political props on major election markets. I’ve attached a presentation prepared by DraftKings regarding some of the aspects of the political prop market.

We certainly understand and respect that it’s been an area you all have tread lightly on thus far and would – as always – welcome your feedback as to whether it would be something WV Lottery would entertain in whole or in part. If there are any further questions that could be answered, just let us know.

I realize this would be new ground for us and Lottery but, as you could imagine, in the struggle for markets to bet into these days, we’re looking for what’s out there that could entice some interest.

Inside the DraftKings pitch for election betting

The 18-page proposal from DraftKings is dated April 3 and spotlights the ubiquity of election betting in Europe and the United Kingdom:

Wagering on politics is available and extremely popular in several of the world’s largest overseas, regulated gambling jurisdictions

Election betting is available in the UK, Canada, Australia, and Spain, although notably absent in France and Italy.

The total amount matched on Betfair’s (UK based) 2016 US election markets was roughly $284 mil, compared with $50 mil on the 2012 election …

DraftKings puts forward not just wagering on the US presidential election but also markets on congressional elections and international elections in Australia, the European Union, and the UK.

The operator forecasts US election betting could generate $1.1 million in handle in West Virginia if available by May 1. With major sports shut down, sports betting handle in West Virginia totaled just $1.6 million for the last two weeks of March.

Bringing home offshore market on political betting?

The proposal further notes that illegal offshore sportsbooks already offer these markets:

Google trends data … shows that Bovada, the most well-known offshore site to Americans, is more sought after than both DraftKings and FanDuel.

Bovada is easily accessible on mobile devices throughout New Jersey and has a robust politics section …

… Given a lack of sportsbook alternatives, Bovada election odds are also regularly cited by reputable news sources.

West Virginia reaches out to clear the path

Bradley emailed the sportsbooks separately in the early afternoon hours of April 7 to gauge interest in election betting.

All responded quickly with proposals for the specific markets they sought to offer and Bradley responded “approved as submitted” to each by 5 p.m.:

BetMGM (via Lacey Rutter)

The request notes that a band is “the band of votes received.” The bands are: less than 40%; 40-42%; 42.1-44%; and 44.1-46%.

DraftKings/PNG (via Zimny and Jacob List)

FanDuel (via John Sheeran)

How West Virginia election betting stopped

Bradley’s message changed from approval to removal in less than three hours. Emails to DraftKings and BetMGM went out at 7:40 p.m. with an identical message:

Hold up on this we are re considering.

List, who is DraftKings senior manager of sportsbook operations, points out about a half-hour later that FanDuel’s odds remain live in its app:

Just noting that FanDuel still has this up

Wither the FanDuel communication?

The file does not show an email asking for removal to FanDuel at the same time, although that is easily inferred.

A message from Sheeran, FanDuel’s director of risk and trading, to lottery spokesperson Randy Burnside at 8:57 p.m. appears to coordinate the PR message from the sides:

“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.”

A follow-up message Wednesday morning from Sheeran seeks guidance from Bradley on handling the two wagers placed before the odds came down:

Just wanted to get your guidance on the 2 wagers that were placed on the election. Our inclination is to the void them immediately and communicate to the customer in real time. Are you ok with that or do you want us to hold off on that process.

Both FanDuel and BetMGM partner with The Greenbrier, a private resort owned by the family of Gov. Jim Justice.