Nevada passes on federal bet law

Nevada passes on federal bet law
A bill legalizing gambling on federal elections died in the state legislature

Staff and consultants are always trying to pick the winning candidate but they’ll have to wait another couple years before they can literally put their money where their work is.

Nevada legislators killed a bill that would’ve allowed betting on federal elections. State Sen. Richard Tick Segerblom, a Las Vegas Democrat, shepherded the bill through the state Senate but couldn’t maneuver it through the House before the Legislature adjourned earlier this month.

Nevada is one of only a handful of states whose legislature meets every two years. 

Segerblom tells C&E he plans to resurrect the bill in the 2015 session. That could see gamblers wagering on House, Senate and presidential campaigns in casinos from Las Vegas to Reno in time for the 2016 cycle.

Wagering on American politics has been lucrative for overseas betting houses and Nevada lawmakers have taken note. But even if campaign betting is legalized in the Silver State, there are questions about how it will be implemented and whether those affiliated with a campaign will be able to wager on the outcome of their races.

For now, lawmakers just want to make campaign betting legal. Segerblom notes the state allows betting on football, basketball and athletic games, so why not on elections? “They allow it in England and it’s very popular,” he says. “We’re just trying to make it legal in Nevada so we can make money on it.”

Betting on American politics is big money in the United Kingdom and Ireland. Paddy Power estimated it took in more than $1.6 million in bets on the 2012 presidential election. For those on this side of the pond, gamblers had been able to use Intrade to bet on the outcome of campaigns. But the Dublin-based company recently halted trading amid financial irregularities and scrutiny from U.S. regulators.

While Segerblom’s bill would legalize wagering, it doesn’t set out how it would be done. “How many people would want to bet, or how they would post the odds, I don’t know. Odds makers are pretty sharp,” he says. Segerblom speculated what betting on the 2016 presidential campaign might look like right now: “Hillary [Clinton] would probably be 5 to 1 [to win], and Joe Biden would probably be 1 to 2, he says. Theoretically you can even bet on how many states someone would win, or how many electoral votes they would get.”

Until this year, Nevada had shied away from allowing wagering on elections, although gambling executives have long been intrigued by so-called exotic bets. Outside of raising publicity, though, casinos didn’t think there was money in it and state regulators worried it would invite unwelcome scrutiny from the feds. Segerblom says the time has come to cross another gambling frontier. “It brings a lot of publicity and if it made $100,000 or $1 million for Nevada that’s $100,000 or $1 million we don’t have.”

An official with William Hill, a U.K.-based betting house that has supported the bill, says the campaign betting market could be worth more than $10 million. “People are already betting on the presidential race at illegal offshore sports books,” Joe Asher, a spokesman for William Hill, says in an email. “This bill would bring some of that money into the regulated (and taxed) Nevada market.”

So what about the campaign spokesman who knows his boss is having an affair or the consultant who’s seen the dismal internal polls?

Would they be able to wager on the outcome? Probably not, says A.G. Burnett, chairman of the Nevada Gaming Control Board, which regulates gambling in the state. Burnett, who hasn’t opposed the bill, speculates that a similar ban to the one that currently exists on casino executives playing in their own gaming establishments would likely be implemented. It would be up to the casinos to monitor that, while at the same time keeping an eye out for unusual betting patterns.

A candidate throwing a campaign to make a quick buck is something that we would be concerned about, Burnett says. If the legislation passes, the gaming control board would come up with recommendations for how to regulate wagering. Its recommendations would then go to the Nevada Gaming Commission, a part-time board of five political appointees responsible for administering those regulations and granting licenses. The commission would hold public hearings and then adopt the necessary regulations.

If wagering on federal elections is legalized, Segerblom has some advice for political prognosticators: Come to Nevada and place a bet.

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