Gambling on 2012 Elections: How to Place Bets on Republican Field

As the GOP candidates hit up Vegas for the CNN debate. Gambling pro Michael Shackleford handicaps their odds.

Scott Audette, Reuters / Landov

Every four years, I have a chance to enjoy two of my favorite things at once: gambling and politics. And politics—besides the Academy Awards—is the area where I’ve consistently made money.

I’m not sure which election I first bet on, but I recall making small wagers on Carter vs. Reagan in 1980, when I was 15. Through 1992 it was just small, friendly bets among friends. However, in 1996, I made a friend who shared my interest in gambling and politics—but for whom a $5 wager was not going to do anything. I wound up betting $500 on Clinton and he won in a landslide. One of the best bets I ever made.

Fast forward to 2008 and it was time for the next landslide. By Election Day I had $34,000 on Obama. Who were these people betting the other way? Were they counting on the Tom Bradley effect? Did they not read the polls? Then again, who cares? Money won is twice as sweet as money earned, and that’s what counts.

All my other bets did well, too. I had Giuliani to lose the GOP primary and Obama to specifically win Ohio, Nevada, and Florida—all battleground states—and he carried all of them. Sarah Palin, though, ended up costing me. As a fun bet among friends, I proposed letting anyone pick any five names for McCain’s running mate, and I would take the field, meaning everybody else on earth. Three people took me up on the bet. One of them chose Palin. I had to congratulate him, as almost nobody outside Alaska had even heard of her the day before, including me. I lost $1,400 on that one. Nevertheless, overall I won $9,300 on all my 2008 election bets.

So what are the going odds for 2012? According to, which serves as a stock market of gambling on just about anything, here are the GOP candidates chances’ of winning the primary:

Romney: 66 percent Perry: 13 percentCain: 8.7 percentHuntsman: 3 percent Gingrich: 2.5 percentPaul: 2.4 percentBachmann: 1.2 percent

One can also bet on a whole range of outcomes: which candidate will drop out by Feb. 5, governor races, Senate races, endorsements, party to win each state, and more. However, what I’m sure gets the most action at this point, before the primaries, is party to win the general election. As of October 17, it’s a toss-up:

Democrat: 49.3 percentRepublican: 48.1 percentOther: 2.7 percent

Should be an exciting race.

My general advice for betting on elections is first to bet the big favorites. (The same advice applies for betting the Academy Awards.) But at this point, the 2012 race is almost a coin flip. So my second piece of advice is to bet among friends whenever you can. Some of them will not study the markets and go more on emotion than facts. Know what the going market price is, and if you can get significantly better elsewhere, take it.

So I’m afraid you aren’t going to get any hot tips on specific names from me. It is too much of a tossup at this point. At this early stage my advice is if you can get significantly better odds than the market price on almost bet, take it.