Betting On The Election - NBC Chicago
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Betting On The Election



    One of democracy’s many advantages over dictatorship, or monarchy, is that we don’t know for sure who our leaders will be a year from now. Like any other uncertain future event, this can -- and should -- be an excuse for gambling. 

    For instance, there's an off-shore book offering odds on the presidential election. Obama was -220, while Romney was +180 when I called to check Wednesday eveing. In gambling terms, that means I’d have to bet $220 to win $100 on Obama, while a $100 bet on Romney would win me $180. Obama is roughly a 1-2 favorite. Those odds are in line with the prices at InTrade, where Obama is a 64 percent favorite, and the election forecasting site, which today gives Obama a 65.7 percent chance of winning. (fivethirtyeight is obviously a handicapping source for InTrade bettors.)

    In gambling, though, nobody wants a fair bet. You want a bet where the odds are greater than your assessment of the event’s probability. In horse racing, this is known as an overlay. If you thought a horse had a 67 percent chance of winning a race, and his odds were even money, you’d jump all over him.

    So I went looking around for a Republican chump who would bet me straight up on the election. And I found one -- but he wasn’t as much of a chump as I expected.

    He agreed to a 1-1 bet, for 50 chips (we bet potato chips) -- but with a caveat. If Romney won without Ohio, I’d have to pay him 10-1. I responded by demanding my own teaser: if Obama won while losing the popular vote, he’d have to pay me 4-1.

    So I could lose up to 500 chips, while my friend can only lose 200. However, I still think I got the better end of our bet. No Republican has ever won the White House without winning Ohio, but four presidents have won without the popular vote -- most recently George W. Bush in 2000. And I got much better odds on the main proposition than I could have gotten elsewhere.

    There’s another adage in gambling that goes along with “never take a fair bet.” It’s “never bet your heart.” My friend and I both broke that one.


    This month, Ward Room blogger Edward McClelland’s Young Mr. Obama: Chicago and the Making of a Black President will be available on Kindle for $9.99. Tracing Obama’s career in Chicago from his arrival as a community organizer to his election to the U.S. Senate, Young Mr. Obama tells the story of how a callow, presumptuous young man became a master politician, and of why only Chicago could have produced our first black president.