West Virginia briefly became the first state to offer legal wagering on political races – before quickly pulling the plug, citing a little known, 150-year-old law barring such action, officials said Wednesday.
The West Virginia Lottery, which runs sports betting in the Mountaineer State, authorized its operators to offer bets on politics. Then one of those contractors, New York-based FanDuel, posted odds on the current presidential race on Tuesday night.
But within an hour, FanDuel – which runs sports betting at The Greenbrier resort in White Sulfur Springs and offers online gaming in West Virginia – stopped taking those bets.
“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 statement from fantasy sports operator FanDuel said.
The brief institution of political betting blindsided West Virginia Secretary of State Mac Warner, who said the lottery commission would be breaking an 1868 state law against such wagers.
“Gambling on the outcome of an election has no place in our American democracy,” Warner, whose office oversees elections in West Virginia, said in a statement on Wednesday. “Not today. Not tomorrow. Not ever.”
He added: “This is a terrible idea. Let’s shut this down right now and be very clear about it.”
In the odds briefly offered by FanDuel, President Donald Trump was a slight favorite to beat apparent Democratic nominee Joe Biden in November.
A backer of Trump would have had to bet $110 to profit $100, while someone believing in Biden would’ve wagered $100 to net $125.
One small bet was taken in this brief window in West Virginia and it’ll be refunded, FanDuel said.
A representative for West Virginia Lottery could not be immediately reached for comment on Wednesday.
If U.S. sports books ever accepted bets on presidential races, the handle would be at least 10 times as much as wagers on the Super Bowl, according to Jay Kornegay, executive vice president of Westgate Resort & Casino SuperBook in Las Vegas.
“More people have an opinion on politics than football,” Kornegay told NBC News on Wednesday.
But regulators have been against allowing such action, fearing the bets themselves could “possibly sway voters one way or another,” the oddsmaker said.