United States Presidential Election Was a Wild Betting Ride

  • Joe Biden was declared the winner on Saturday morning
  • Biden began as a heavy favorite, but odds swung to Trump when he won Florida
  • Once it looked like Biden would win Wisconsin and other key states, he became the favorite again
  • SportsBet paid out Biden bettors on Thursday, days before the election was called
Joe Biden
Joe Biden entered election night last Tuesday as the favorite to win the US Presidency, but betting odds fluctuated wildly for days as state vote totals slowly came in. [Image: Shutterstock.com]

Biden declared winner after five days

After nearly a week of waiting, former Vice President Joe Biden was finally declared the winner of the 2020 United States Presidential election on Saturday, defeating current Commander-in-Chief, Donald Trump. Though the official election day was Tuesday, November 3, an unprecedented surge in mail-in ballots because of the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in slow vote tallies and therefore a delayed declaration of the winner. The drawn-out election also produced many opportunities for betting.

Biden was the clear favorite

The night before election day (most states had been accepting early ballots for several weeks), Biden was the clear favorite, as polls showed him with a double-digit percentage lead among likely voters. At -227, he had about a two-thirds chance of winning. For whatever reason, his odds decreased by Tuesday morning.

For comparison, Trump was a massive underdog in 2016, going into the election against Hillary Clinton at +375 (Clinton was -550). He became the second-largest underdog to win the presidency, bested only by Harry Truman (+1,500) in 1948.

Florida caused Trump odds spike

The markets course-corrected during the day on Tuesday, boosting Biden back up to -250. But as results started to be revealed in the early evening and Biden was not dominating like it seemed he would, things began to shift.

The most shocking moment for the betting markets came when it looked like Trump was going to win Florida, flipping the script and making the incumbent a sizable favorite for a while. At about 10pm ET, Trump was as much as +400 on Betfair.

Florida has been a “swing state” for years, offering a significant chunk of electoral votes in a race that is usually close. Barack Obama won it in both of his elections, but Trump won the state in 2016 and it has usually gone with the Republican candidate for the past 50 years. Many polls had Joe Biden as a very slight favorite in Florida, getting Democrats’ hopes up that this election could be an electoral landslide.

As the calendar page turned, Trump was down to only a slight favorite in the betting markets, as Biden became favored in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Nevada. Trump had flipped the two Midwest states red in 2016, and though he was still leading in the vote totals, the large numbers of mail-in ballots that were still to be counted were expected to heavily fall on the side of Biden. Biden was also looking strong in Arizona, a traditionally Republican state.

by late Wednesday afternoon, sportsbooks effectively had him as a lock to win

In the 5am hour Wednesday morning, Biden once again became the betting favorite, as it looked like he was going to win Wisconsin, a state he very much needed. Within a couple hours, he was a heavy favorite, and by late Wednesday afternoon, sportsbooks effectively had him as a lock to win. News outlets had called Wisconsin and Michigan for Biden, Arizona and Nevada were looking good, and he was coming back in Pennsylvania and Georgia. Biden’s odds soared from there as he continued to dominate mail-in ballots.

SportsBet didn’t wait

Though the election was not officially called for Joe Biden until Saturday morning, one sportsbook saw the writing on the wall and decided to pay Biden bettors early. On Thursday afternoon, Biden had already clinched Wisconsin and Michigan and was favored – based on vote counts and projected votes to still be counted – in Nevada, Pennsylvania, Arizona, and Georgia.

Australia-based SportsBet decided it had seen enough, and with its odds of a Biden victory at -500, or about 83%, it felt that it might as well make the payouts.

a similar decision came back to bite Paddy Power in 2016

Considering the election was called for Biden on Saturday and he is still poised to pick up one or two more states as they finishing sifting through the last remaining ballots, it looks like it worked out. But a similar decision came back to bite Paddy Power in 2016, when it paid out Hillary Clinton bets on election night, only to see Trump pull out the victory in the early hours of Wednesday morning.

In December 2018, FanDuel paid all bets on the Alabama Crimson Tide to win the college football national championship before the national semi-final game. At the time, Alabama was the favorite of the four remaining teams at -280. Alabama got destroyed by Clemson in the title game, costing FanDuel an estimated $400,000.