Should the U.S. allow gambling on elections?

Posted at 10:14 AM, Oct 12, 2015
and last updated 2015-10-12 10:16:07-04

LAS VEGAS, Nevada (CNN) — The sportsbook section at the South Point Casino was packed, the nearby bar overflowed and rowdy gamblers dressed in their team’s colors crowded the walls while they gazed up at screens broadcasting live football games. It was a Sunday—the busiest time for sports betting–and Jimmy Vaccaro, the casino’s lead odds maker, scurried around the room greeting familiar faces and checking in on employees taking bets below a massive board that displayed the live betting odds of each game.

For years, Vaccaro has watched billions of dollars pour into Nevada for sports betting. And he dreams of extending casino gambling to political elections.

“We’ve been saying for the past thirty years, what is wrong with it? What’s the sense in not being able to do that, since we can book just about everything else?” Vaccaro told CNN. “Why send all this money offshore or to illegal bookies when we can regulate it and tax it and everybody can make some money doing it properly.”

The effort has had little success.

Casino gambling on elections is currently illegal throughout the country. A Nevada lawmaker proposed opening the state to political wagering in 2014, but the bill died before making it to the state legislature’s floor. Would-be gamblers can participate in small-scale prediction markets used for research purposes like PredictIt that heavily restrict the amount of money one can wager, but for the most part, the practice falls outside state and federal law.

Betting on elections was once common and legal in the United States. Before scientific polling became the standard in the mid-1900s, election wagering was one of the best ways to predict the outcome of an election. (The United Kingdom still allows betting on elections—including contests within the United States.) For the 2016 election, CNN has partnered with a prediction market called Pivit, which allows participants to bet points instead of money to predict the outcome of political events ranging from the House’s selection for a new Speaker, the likelihood that a presidential candidate will drop out of the race and, of course, the final outcome of the race for the White House.

At the South Point Casino, Vaccaro recently started putting up the odds of presidential contenders on the sportsbook’s screen just for entertainment purposes, and says people ask him every day how they can place a bet on the election. Looking over the packed room on a typical Sunday during football season, he can only dream what it would look like on Election Day.

“It would be the biggest thing we’d ever booked,” he predicted. “It would make the Super Bowl look like a high school football game.”

For now, however, you’ll just have to stick to sports.