It’s often said that betting markets are a good indicator of how the public at large feels. Sometimes, though, it just takes a little while for those markets to catch up.
That’s pretty much what happened Tuesday night in American politics, in arguably the biggest election upset of all time. As people woke up this morning – or at least those who called it a night before this whole thing was finalized in the wee hours – they saw that Donald Trump is the next president of the United States.
Trump, the upstart, outsider Republican nominee, was never favored against Democratic nominee and Beltway insider Hillary Clinton. In fact, he was always a long shot, even at his best odds in mid-September, when he was at around +160 and Clinton was -180 at offshore sportsbooks and overseas in the United Kingdom. Three weeks ago, Clinton was such a prohibitive favorite – as much as -700 or more – that Irish sportsbook Paddy Power opted to start paying out Hillary tickets, to the tune of $1 million.
The result wasn’t ideal for British outfit Ladbrokes, either, though there was some good news.
“We await to see the final numbers from our side, but it appears that we may have gotten away without losing too much money,” Matthew Shaddick, head of political odds for Ladbrokes in the UK, said late last night. “A poor result, but not the huge liability we faced a few weeks back. We're likely to have won quite a bit of money on the individual state betting, as well as on electoral college and popular vote outcomes. That'll mitigate the loss on the outright win market.”
So just how did that outright win evolve on Election Day?
Tuesday morning, as millions began heading to the polls – after record numbers of Americans voted early – Hillary Clinton was a very healthy favorite of anywhere from -450 (Ladbrokes) to -500 (William Hill UK), -535 (Bookmaker.eu) and -600 (Sportsbook.ag). Trump was sitting at +333 at Ladbrokes, +350 at William Hill and +400 at offshore shops Sportsbook.ag and Bookmaker.eu.
By mid-evening Eastern time, those numbers were changing so rapidly, it was almost impossible to keep up. And they weren’t going in the heavy favorite’s direction. By 9:23 p.m. Eastern, Clinton was down to a -175 favorite at Ladbrokes, while Trump was at +125 – even closer than in September. Just 12 minutes later, Trump was Even money and Clinton was -137. Two minutes after that, both candidates were listed as co-favorites at 5/6.
Meanwhile, Bookmaker.eu had moved Trump from +400 at day’s beginning to +145, while Clinton dropped from -600 to -173.
And the snowball was on its way to an avalanche.
At 9:48 p.m., Trump was the -150 chalk and Clinton the +110 underdog at Ladbrokes. By 9:57 p.m., Trump was -200 and Clinton +150 at Ladbrokes, and minutes later Trump went to -130 and Clinton -110 at Sportsbook.ag.
Odds at all these outlets and more just went haywire from there, with Ladbrokes providing the best example with its constant updates – likely also meaning Trump wagers were flooding the zone.
By 10:08 p.m., Ladbrokes had gone to Trump -225/Clinton +163, shortly after DecisionDeskHQ.com – a rising, reputable outfit immersed in voter projections – called key swing states Florida and North Carolina for Trump (way before the big networks). Just 10 minutes later, the 180-degree flip was complete, with Trump a -500 chalk and Clinton a +300 underdog. At 10:37 p.m., Ladbrokes had Trump -700/Clinton +400.
And at 11 p.m., Trump was -1,000 - a thought beyond comprehension compared with where he was 12 hours earlier, when an expected loss – and in potential landslide fashion – loomed large.
The folks at William Hill UK made some very salient observations early Tuesday, long before the odds went ballistic, comparing the Brexit vote in June to Tuesday’s presidential election. Graham Sharpe, media relations director for William Hill, reiterated those comparisons early today.
“The U.S. election statistics reflect almost identically the division of stakes and bets for Brexit,” Sharpe said. “The odds on the day for the two candidates were almost identical to the Remain/Leave odds on EU Ref day. Brexit became favorite for the first time just before 2 a.m. (GMT) on EU Ref night, Trump at just after 2 a.m. on polling night.”
And in almost identical fashion, the favorite lost Tuesday night. By 11:20 p.m. Eastern, Ladbrokes had Trump a massive -5,000 favorite, with Clinton at +1,000. An hour later, Sportsbook.ag had Trump at a whopping -10,000.
When the clock struck 1 a.m., Clinton’s carriage hit full pumpkin phase. DecisionDeskHQ.com called Pennsylvania for Trump, putting him at 274 electoral votes, surpassing the 270 requirement. The big networks didn’t call it until nearly two hours later, though everybody saw the writing on the wall by then – and the offshore and overseas sportsbooks were writing some checks, per se, they’d hoped not to.
On Tuesday morning, Shaddick said: “Unless things change dramatically, we’ll be cheering on a narrow Clinton victory as our optimal result.”
In the middle of the night in America, and as the sun rose in Great Britain today, that optimal result was denied.
“Those who took the original 150/1 about Trump have pulled off the political betting coup of all time,” Shaddick said, while noting the U.S. election surpassed the Brexit referendum as the biggest political market Ladbrokes has ever traded.
It was an unfathomable Election Day, perhaps surprising Paddy Power as much as anyone, as it will now be paying out Trump wagers, too. But in the year of Brexit, perhaps that shouldn’t have been such a surprise.
“Donald Trump started as a 150/1 no-hoper, but was very well backed, albeit in smaller amounts than we accepted for long-time favorite Hillary Clinton,” Sharpe said. “This campaign absolutely decimated all previous political betting records and shows what a popular betting subject politics is.”
It took until the final day, and in fact well into the final night, for the betting markets to catch up. But catch up they did.
Patrick Everson is a Las Vegas-based senior writer for Covers. Follow him on Twitter: @Covers_Vegas.