In the spring of 1984 I was in Las Vegas for a trade show. I happened to be in the Sports Book at Caesar’s Palace. Out of idle curiosity I looked up at the board to see the odds of the Detroit Tigers winning the World Series. I don’t remember the exact odds, but it was probably about 75/1. It was definitely very high. With good reason. The Tigers hadn’t won a World Series since 1968 and the one prior to that was in 1945.
Suddenly the board went blank, and then the odds dropped to something like 10/1. At first I thought this was a typo or a missing bulb. Then I saw a news report saying the Detroit Tigers had acquired relief pitcher Willie Hernandez in a trade with Philadelphia. I didn’t know who Willie Hernandez was, but those Las Vegas book makers sure knew. Hernandez went on to record 32 saves out of 33 chances. He won the Cy Young Award and was voted the most Valuable Player in the American League. Detroit started the season 35-5 and after those 40 games they never relinquished a lead during the entire season.
The point is the people who know the real odds frequently work or live in Las Vegas. These guys aren’t motivated by politics, they are motivated by money. Last Thursday Robert Barnes, a well-known high-roller jumped on a non-stop flight to London so he could make six figure bets on the election. He is betting on Republicans retaining control of the House and the Senate. He is putting his money where his mouth is:
He explains his reasoning below:
“There’s a problem with polling around the world, particularly in America,” Barnes said. “The response rate is so low, and landlines are no longer reliable means to reach people. We’re in an experimental polling age. I became obsessed with polling in the 2016 election, diving into the polls. The polling problems that were present in 2016 still exist in 2018, and in fact, they’re worse. That’s enhanced and increased the odds being in favor of the Democrats.”
Then he gave his opinion regarding the people producing political polls:
If you want to change your reasoning, change your motivation. Political betting does that better than anything,” Barnes said. “What’s fascinating is that none of these people in the political data journalist space would last six months in Vegas in a sports betting market. They’re like the kids who come out here for March Madness.
For the record, I wouldn’t bet $100 on this election, let alone six figures. But there are people who do make such bets. Since it is illegal to bet on elections in the U.S., London becomes attractive because it is legal there. Nate Silver, who is betting nothing, has the odds at 85% that Democrats will take control of the house. That would result in odds between 5 to 1 and 6 to 1. But no London broker will give you those odds. More likely the best you could get would be 2/1 or maybe 3/2. That’s because they think the Republicans have about a 40% chance of winning. Mr. Barnes thinks the odds of Republicans winning are closer to 65%, which is why he is currently in London voting with his very fat wallet.
This is far from predicting a Republican victory, but it is even farther from predicting the coveted blue wave.