Is Bovada Expecting a Surprise Democratic Nominee?

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Recently, something caught my eye while I was combing over the various political betting odds Bovada is offering – and I’m not quite sure I know how to interpret it. Judging from the lines they’ve set on a couple of the online sportsbook’s 2020 presidential election markets, it appears that oddsmakers may be anticipating a surprise candidate for the Democratic Party’s nomination.

To understand what I’m talking about, check out the current betting odds for the 2020 general election:

2020 US Presidential Election Winner

Candidate Betting Odds
Donald Trump -120
Joe Biden +500
Bernie Sanders +700
Elizabeth Warren +1200
Pete Buttigieg +1200
Michael Bloomberg +1800
Andrew Yang +2500
Hillary Clinton +3500
Amy Klobuchar +5000
Mike Pence +6000

Donald Trump has continued to cement himself as the favorite, with his implied probability of winning slightly increasing after ordering a drone strike on a high-ranking Iranian general. Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders are his two closest challengers at +500 and +700 betting odds, respectively.

It’s also worth noting that out of the ten most highly-favored candidates posted to Bovada’s presidential election market, Mike Pence is the only other Republican. This may be a contributing factor to what I’m seeing, though it still doesn’t totally make sense.

In addition to being able to wager on a specific candidate, political handicappers can also choose to bet on the general election by picking the winning party. The odds being offered for that market is what has me scratching my head.

US Presidential Election 2020 – Winning Party

  • PickOdds
  • Democratic Party-105
  • Republican Party-125

While the Republican Party betting line is consistent with what you’d expect, considering Donald Trump’s -120 odds, the Democratic Party is listed at –105, only a slight underdog. Now, obviously, there’s a huge difference between wagering on an entire field of possibilities versus having only two outcomes from which to choose, but the numbers still don’t seem to add up.

If the DNC challenger considered to have the BEST chance of beating Trump is posted at +500 – giving Biden’s chances of winning an implied probability of 16.67% — why is the Democratic Party itself offering almost even-money?

Is it possible that Bovada is anticipating someone other than the current crop of Democratic hopefuls to throw their hat into the ring?

What do the Oddsmakers see on the Democratic Side?

Now, there are some less exciting explanations for the discrepancies in the betting odds, too, to be fair. Most importantly, the current lines for the general election are factoring in the uncertainty of the primary process.

Once we’re down to only two major candidates, the Democratic nominee will probably be listed closer to even money than they are currently. That’s why I’ve been pushing readers to get their bets in sooner rather than later, while there’s still tons of value on the board.

But even with that concession, the discrepancies between the implied probabilities of the leading Democratic contenders and the “winning party” odds still seem too dramatic.

Assuming the current crop of frontrunners remain the key players from now, through to the convention; would a handicapper be better off putting $25 on each of Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, and Pete Buttigieg than dropping $100 on the Democratic Party as a whole at –105 odds?

Picks
  • $25 on Joe Biden at +500 pays $125, minus the $75 for the three losses = $50 in winnings.
  • $25 on Bernie Sanders at +700 pays $175, minus the $75 for the three losses = $100 in winnings.
  • $25 on Elizabeth Warren at +1200 pays $300, minus the $75 for the three losses = $225 in winnings.
  • $25 on Pete Buttigieg at +1200 pays $300, minus the $75 for the three losses = $225 in winnings.

While:

  • $25 on $100 on the Democratic Party at –105 pays $95.24

So, taking each of the four leading Democratic candidates individually is the more profitable option, only as long as anyone but Joe Biden wins the nomination.

Late Entries

Throughout my coverage of the Democratic primaries, I’ve been quite outspoken in my belief that Hillary Clinton is going to show up at a contested convention and steal the nomination. It’s, admittedly, a bit of a crackpot, long-shot, conspiracy theory, but if you’ve followed the Clintons for the past few decades, it’s not entirely out of the question.

Sleeper Pick

At the moment, Clinton is listed as a heavy underdog at +3500, which makes sense, considering she hasn’t declared for the race. However, if she DID decide to make herself available, I fully believe the DNC – over which she still exercises immense power – would find a way to throw all of their delegates Hillary’s way.

With the party split between progressives and moderates – which, in 2020, are basically Republicans in every way besides a handful of social issues – it seems extremely likely that we’ll reach the Democratic National Convention in Milwaukee this July without any of the leading candidates securing the necessary 2,383 delegates required for the nomination.

Once that happens, you’ll see the gears of the DNC establishment machine start turning and the same backroom shenanigans that undermined the entire 2016 election. Too many prominent donors, pols, and corporations on both sides of the aisle are against an outsider like Bernie Sanders getting into office. If he doesn’t show up with an excess of delegates, he’s not going to win them on the convention floor.

At the same time, Joe Biden’s failure to secure the nomination sooner will also have Democrats fretting over “electability,” and his minuscule chances of unseating Donald Trump. The party has been begging for one of their traditional “heroes” to come riding in on a white horse, saving the DNC from these pesky leftists – from the perspective of the Democratic Party elite, Hillary Clinton would be a godsend.

Clinton’s Path

Remember, Clinton did win the popular vote in 2016 and only lost by roughly 77,000 well-placed votes in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin, thanks to the electoral college. It’s not too far-fetched to assume that some of the people who flipped from being Democrats to supporting Trump would return to the DNC in 2020.

After all,

they were promised jobs, a drained swamp, and a better economy. Yes, the US economy as a whole is thriving – at least, on paper – but none of that capital has found its way down to the working class. It’s all just parked in the stock market, where it continues to benefit a small handful of wealthy individuals and corporations.

Then, there’s the fact that Trump just brought us perilously close to World War 3 by unilaterally assassinating the second most powerful man in Iran, without congressional approval. He ran on anti-war in 2016.

So, while I’m aware that President Trump’s core base will enthusiastically support him no matter what, it’s not crazy to think Clinton could flip a decent percentage of those 77,000 deciding voters.

You also have to factor in the 20% of Bernie Sanders voters who refused to throw their support behind Hillary in 2016. The vast majority of them would likely stay home in November or vote third-party again, but fewer would flip to Donald Trump, now that he’s no longer an unknown commodity.

Many of the people who jumped from Sanders to Trump did so out of the desire for an outsider candidate. Now that the President has fallen short on his promises to shake things up in Washington and probably started another war, they won’t make the same decision twice.

Again, the margin of defeat was so slim in 2016, when you look at the electoral college, Clinton only needs a few minor improvements to win that race. If she were to be given her rematch this year, that’s a Democrat I can see with a roughly 50% chance of beating Trump, which is consistent with Bovada’s -105 betting odds a DNC victory.

My Conclusion

Having taken a closer look at Bovada’s two different 2020 presidential election markets, I think I have a better understanding of what’s going on. The massive discrepancy between the Dem frontrunners’ individual odds and the betting line posted for a DNC win in November is largely a result of the current uncertainty surrounding the Democratic primaries.

While it may appear to be headed towards a showdown between Biden and Sanders, the rest of the field is a wild card. Elizabeth Warren pulls some support away from Bernie, as does Andrew Yang, while Mayor Pete voters would likely turn to Joe Biden if he dropped out.

Assuming they all make it to the convention in July, it’s going to be a substantial challenge for any one candidate to lock up the number of delegates they need to win the nomination the easy way. Once that happens, you have to consider the possibility of surprises like Hillary Clinton swooping in for the steal.

Throw in added variables like President Trump’s potential impeachment trial and the threat of an unpopular war with Iran, and you can see why the Democratic Party as a whole is being given a roughly 50% chance of winning in 2020, despite not having a single individual candidate getting better than +500 odds at the moment.

How I’d Approach Betting on the Democrats

While the –105 betting line for the Democratic Party to win the 2020 presidential election seems more reasonable now, it’s still not the way I’d choose to bet the race. If you’re convinced that Donald Trump is going to lose, there may be a more profitable way to back up that opinion.

Think back on those four $25 wagers from earlier. That configuration didn’t quite work because Biden’s payout wasn’t enough to out-earn the $95.24 you’d win on a $100 DNC bet — after you accounted for the $75 lost to the three other candidates.

But what if trim the field a little and allocate our bankroll a bit differently? Let’s stick with the $100 from before, which will earn $95.24 if the Democratic Primary as a whole is victorious in November.

First, I’m cutting Pete Buttigieg out of the mix – he’s so unpopular with black voters, there’s just no path for him to win the White House. Let’s save that $25 for someone else.

I’m getting rid of Elizabeth Warren too. Her mild pivot to the center will cost her too many progressive supporters, and the scandal around her ethnicity will be magnified should she ever win the nomination. The Trump team is really good at playing the messaging game, especially online.

They’ll beat her over the head with Native American memes, the weird “I’m going to have a beer” video, and everything else. Plus, wealthy donors are scared of her tax proposals and will undermine the Senator as well. That’s another $25 we can redirect.

Instead, I’m going to invest more in the two frontrunners – Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders – and use what’s left on my deep sleeper pick, which will pay out at huge odds if I’m right about the Democratic National Convention.

I propose the following wagers:

  • $50 on Joe Biden at +500 odds to win $250
  • Subtracting the $50 for the other two losses = $200 in winnings

  • $35 on Bernie Sanders at +700 odds to win $245
  • Subtracting the $65 for the other two losses = $180 in winnings

  • $15 on Hillary Clinton at +3500 odds to win $525
  • Subtracting the $85 for the other two losses = $440 in winnings.

Let’s be honest; if anybody from the Democratic Party is going to upset Donald Trump this election cycle, it’s going to have to be one of these three. I’m investing the most in Joe Biden because he’s the current frontrunner and the preferred candidate of the DNC’s donor class. They’ll do everything in their power to push him through.

Bernie Sanders has the best chance of beating Donald Trump in a general election in a vacuum, but that’s only if he’s given a fair shot, with the full support of the Democratic Party.

If his massive bankroll and army of supporters are somehow able to steamroll the DNC establishment in the primaries and force the Senator into the nomination, I suspect we’ll see nonstop sabotage from the same people that were screaming “party unity” in 2016.

Plus, someone like Tom Steyer, Howard Schultz, or Michael Bloomberg will run as a spoiler candidate. The affluent donor class would rather another four years of Trump over someone like Bernie Sanders any day, despite what they may profess in public.

Last, is my deep sleeper pick: Hillary Clinton.

I don’t want to stake too much on her since my theory is still somewhat of a long-shot, but I believe in the possibility of it occurring enough to take the chance. Really take a close look at all the signals she’s been sending the past few months; a Clinton candidacy is not as outlandish as it may seem at the moment. It all comes down to a contested convention in July.

If any of those bets hit, the payout is significantly higher than the $95 for correctly picking the Democratic Party. The worst you can do is with Bernie Sanders, who will earn you almost double.

Oh! — and if I’m right about Hillary, I want 25% for the tip!
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Will Cormier / Author

Will Cormier is a sports and political betting writer living in downtown Las Vegas, Nevada. When he’s not wandering around the streets of the Arts District aimlessly, a lifetime of pessimism and paranoia has made Will perfectly suited for handicapping politics. Cormier tries to analyze current events as objectively as possible – a strategy that often enrages loyalists on both the right and the left. When he’s not covering major upcoming elections, Will enjoys writing about basketball, football, and MMA from a betting perspective. He also loves dogs, ice cream sundaes, the movie “Stomp the Yard,” and long walks on the beach.