Democracy Dies in Darkness

Morning Mix

As White House chaos grows, Trump is a 'boon for business' in Britain's betting houses

By Travis M. Andrews

February 15, 2017 at 7:26 AM

US President Donald J. Trump meeting with county sheriffs during a listening session in the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington, DC. (Andrews Harrer/EPA)

Paul Krishnamurty lost about $15,000 in November after placing an online bet.

The professional gambler and writer of The Political Gambler blog didn't lose it on the horses or a big game, though. He lost it because Donald Trump beat Hillary Clinton in the United States presidential election. Much like most pollsters, he thought Clinton was shoo-in.

Like most pollsters, he was wrong.

"I was supremely confident. I though she was going to win by a landslide. When the results were first coming in, I was extremely confident," Krishnamurty told Fortune. "[Trump's win] was 1,000 times less likely than Brexit. I was arguing that Trump had no chance."

Still, he may have a chance to recoup his dough, as betting on Trump's presidency didn't end with the election.

In fact, it's more popular than ever.

(On overseas betting websites. It should be noted that, outside of an extremely narrow set of circumstances which were explored by The Washington Post's Jessica Contrera, gambling on political outcomes is technically illegal in the U.S.)

"Donald Trump being president is a brilliant thing for betting companies in the United Kingdom. He has created an incredibly amount of interest in betting," Alex Donohue, PR manager of British oddsmakers and betting website Ladbrokes told The Post in a telephone interview.

Trump's unpredictability is the key, as his actions "lead to speculation which can be translated into betting," Donohue said. It certainly doesn't hurt that he "has become a mainstream character in the United Kingdom," which makes up the majority of Ladbrokes' clientele.

Thrill-seeking gamesters can toss money down on anything from whether Trump will visit Russia before the end of the year to if he will win the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize (100-to-1 odds). Paddy Power, an Irish gambling website, offers more outlandish bets on such scenarios as "next retailer to drop Ivanka Trump," "When will Sean Spicer leave/get sacked as White House press secretary" and if Trump will "be officially accused of Russian collusion."

On both sites, though, "the main bet would be impeachment or will he finish the term," Donahue said. And most bettors seem to be placing their hard-earned money on the idea that he will.

Currently, Ladbrokes offers an even payout on that happening — 1-to-1 odds, in other words. That means if a gambler bets $1 on a Trump impeachment and is proven correct, he receives $2 back. Many, many people are betting.

"We face a six-figure payout should The Donald resign or find himself impeached before the end of his first term," Ladbrokes spokeswoman Jessica Bridge told The Post via email. "Simply put, British bettors do not trust Trump as far as they could throw him and are willing to stake hefty amounts of money on him failing."

These odds are reached in two ways.

First, they have to be set in a vacuum. That's where people like Matthew Shaddick, Ladbrokes' primarily political oddsmaker, come in. His job is to compile odds designed to "make it attractive to place bets but to put together odds to make [Ladbrokes] a profit."

"The odds are set in the exact same way as a horse race or a soccer match — we look at and heavily analyze all of the information we have on hand, i.e., historical data, statistics, polling, media reports, weather etc," Bridge explained. "All of this leaves us then giving an implied chance of probability, thereafter betting is all about supply and demand."

For all that, it's really based on "almost a gut feeling an expert has," Donohue said. In this case, Ladbrokes originally set the odds at 3-to-1.

The odds, though, are constantly shifting in accordance with where bettors are putting their money — which they often do in reaction to the news. If everyone were betting on an important football game, for example, and a star player on one of the teams got injured, many gamblers would likely swoop in to bet on the other team. The odds would change to reflect that.

Think of it like a see-saw. The more money bet on one side (in this case, Trump being impeached), the more those odds (and thus the payout) go down.

And indeed, one can watch these shifts occur in real time. When the interview with Donohue began, the payout if Trump were impeached was 11-to-10. By the time he said, "Cheers," it was an even 1-to-1.

One explanation for this shift is likely the burgeoning Michael Flynn scandal.

Donohue stressed, though, that "you don't care if you're right or wrong … the role of a bookmaker is never to predict the future." Instead, "you care about the house" and the potential money that can be made.

The house, you see, doesn't always win. As Politico reported, following Trump's victory in November, Paddy Power lost nearly $5 million after paying out bets on the election.

The payout odds of Trump being impeached, then, are not predictive of how likely such an outcome is. They reflect how likely bettors think it will be. The real story, Donohue said, isn't what will happen with Trump's presidency but how invested the U.K. has become in it.

"It's safe to say this level of interest tells a story. In this country, it's very simple. We all like a bet in this country. We mostly bet on what we're interested in," he said, citing English football and horse racing. But "you can't avoid Trump in the UK media."

As a result, "he's been a real boon for our business."


Travis M. Andrews is a reporter for The Washington Post's Morning Mix. Previously he was an editor for Southern Living and a pop culture and tech contributor for Mashable.

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