Would you be more likely to mark an ‘X’ on a ballot next election if you had bet on the outcome? An unnamed British businessman bet a total of £900,000 on the result of the recent Scottish independence referendum, the largest of its kind in British history.
The referendum asked the question, “Should Scotland be an independent country from the United Kingdom?” and Scottish residents could vote ‘Yes’ or ‘No’. When the vote was won 55% to 45% by the ‘No’ campaign, the businessman pocketed £193,333 pounds in winnings.
According to The Guardian this bet was probably the largest of its kind worldwide. Despite most people thinking this was the act of a madman, the former City trader has argued that his actions were “purely rational and had been supported by his wife.” The newspaper reported that he had put a lot of research into the probable outcome (looking at polls in the lead up to the Scottish referendum as well as the conclusion of the Quebec referendum held in 1995) and his decision to back the no vote was a calculated risk.
And it seemed that most punters agreed with the anonymous businessman. Bookmakers William Hill reported another bet of £200,000 backing the ‘No’ vote, with the largest bets for ‘Yes’ reaching only£10,000. Perhaps they should have taken advice from the luckier punter. In an interview with BBC2’s Jeremy Vine, he said, “The first thing I should say is: don’t try this at home. Perhaps I have a bit of a unique background given what I do, given I have been involved in markets…I’m a bit of a data geek and information nerd.”
While it is currently illegal to bet on political events in the United States, in Europe,Britain and Australia it is not. And most bookmakers offer odds not only on events in their own countries, but on elections and political situations throughout the world. In fact odds are already being offered on Hilary Clinton winning the 2016 US presidency before she has even officially announced her candidacy.
It seems political betting is becoming big business. STV News reported that the Scottish independence referendum was the biggest political betting event ever with a turnover of more than £2 million for William Hill. The bookmakers went on to say that it was the equivalent of the last General Election and US Presidential Election combined and expects future elections and presidential races to top that.
For most punters it’s just another avenue to indulge their enjoyment of gambling, but for some the worrying aspect of this growing trend is that it could have the potential to influence outcomes rather than speculate on them. The big question is: would the public be tempted to vote according to favourable odds rather than their political beliefs?