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West Virginia Officials Urge State to Quash Gambling on Politics

Bloomberg logo Bloomberg 4/8/2020 Eben Novy-Williams
a cup of coffee: A mini basketball and a coffee mug sit on an employee's desk at Fanduel offices. © Bloomberg A mini basketball and a coffee mug sit on an employee's desk at Fanduel offices.

(Bloomberg) -- One day after FanDuel Inc. briefly began taking bets on the 2020 presidential election, citing permission from the West Virginia Lottery, state officials condemned the idea.

West Virginia Governor Jim Justice said on a radio show that he disapproved of allowing people to wager on elections. Secretary of State Mac Warner said in a statement that it was a “terrible idea.”

“Gambling on elections has been illegal in West Virginia since 1868,” Warner said. “Gambling on the outcome of an election has no place in our American democracy. Not today. Not tomorrow. Not ever.”

Their comments add further confusion to what was already a bizarre series of events. On Tuesday night, FanDuel announced it had received permission in West Virginia to take wagers on the election, a first for a U.S. state. Forty minutes after posting odds and saying it was accepting wagers, FanDuel took down the option and refunded the money of anyone who had placed bets.

The West Virginia Lottery, which oversees betting in the state, said it initially approved election wagering, but then asked operators to hold off on launching until it had more time to research the matter and understand the consequences. Late Tuesday night, a representative for the lottery said gambling on politics was “no longer approved.”

Betting on politics has long been considered a massive opportunity for sportsbooks, given the interest and media attention that national elections command. That’s especially true now, since there are virtually no sports for gamblers to wager on.

States, however, have been hesitant to allow it for a variety of legal and integrity concerns.

Political bets are popular elsewhere, such as the U.K. Betfair customers plunked down almost 200 million pounds ($247 million) on the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

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