The United States’ 2020 presidential election showed the absolute prediction power of sports betting odds — even when the “game” is not a sporting event. There were big wins as a majority of voters in three more states — Maryland, Louisiana and South Dakota — approved legal sports gambling.
But an even bigger victory has come in how the updating “in-game” odds in the heated race between Donald Trump and Joe Biden have stood out as the most accurate projection of the current and final results.
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With plenty at stake for the nation, Republican and Demcractic presidential voters have looked for something to give them confidence about their candidate’s chances of winning over the past 24 hours. With more shakiness in polling and many media outlets having different parameters for calling states for one candidate or the other, the numbers from offshore books and domestic ones such as Bovada have provided some clarity to know how it’s really going in the Trump vs. Biden battle.
How and why did the election odds change?
There’s been a tendency to jump to conclusions with the outcome as, once again, what’s happening first and early has proved not to be right. Consider how quickly the odds changed at Bovada, per OddsShark:
#Elections2020 How the US Election odds have shifted over the past 12 hours:
— Odds Shark (@OddsShark) November 4, 2020
That’s insane. In fewer than 12 hours, Biden went from being a slight favorite to a big underdog to being the biggest favorite he’s ever been — including at any time before the election. As of noon ET Wednesday, Biden was further up to -450, or an 81.8 percent win probability. The bottom line with the odds is to create constant action on both sides, but it also reflects how some battleground states were true slugfests.
Biden was trailing by enough early in Wisconsin and Michigan to think he might not get the needed 270 electoral votes to defeat the incumbent Trump. But those quickly have flipped from Trump to Biden with more information coming out on how many votes — and from where in the states — hadn’t been counted. Likewise, Biden seemed to have no chance in Pennsylvania, until he went from a big longhot to a slight favorite.
What do the election betting numbers mean?
Late on election night, it was Trump -280 and Biden +205 in Pennsylvania. That translated to Trump having a 73.7 chance of winning the state. Now near on Wednesday afternoon, Biden has a 59.2 percent chance of winning.
So just after 10 p.m. ET Tuesday, Trump had a whopping 88.6 chance to win the election at -775, just three hours after Biden was a 59.2 percent favorite at -145. By Wednesday morning, the chances of winning did a 180 with Biden getting already up to 79.6 percent.
For the uninitiated, translating odds to percentages works like this. If someone is a -500 favorite, it means they would lose only one time for every five times the contest is run for a 5 in 6 chance of winning, 83.3 percent. On the flip side, +500 says an underdog would win only one time of every five times, or 1 of 6, 16.7 percent.
Is this really like sports?
Adjusting the lines for developing situations is what happens with football games, mainly related to changes at quarterback, key injuries or outside factors such as travel turnaround or weather. The 2020 presidential election has had more variables than any other before it. Once there was knowledge of many mail-in votes and those cast in urban areas needing to be counted in the key states, there was a dramatic odds shift in Biden’s favor.
History may look at this as a big Biden comeback, like the Patriots erasing a 28-3 late deficit to beat the Falcons in the Super Bowl. But the reality is that the game was tied at halftime, waiting for someone to pull away in the fourth quarter — and the odds reflected that.
As for the bettors, congratulations to those who took advantage of betting on Biden when the odds were most against him. The rest of us should also be happy to have a true indicator of how the election was really going vs. hyberbole or disappointment either way.
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