But placing bets on whether President Obama could carry the Republican stronghold of Montana? Now that's a wager that speaks to today's gambler.
The race for the White House has gone exotic -- as in exotic betting. Much as the Super Bowl became a platform for all sorts of oddball wagers, from which team will win the coin toss to what color of Gatorade will be showered upon the victorious coach, so has the presidential election. British bookmakers are accepting bets on the outcome of individual states, on the number of Electoral College votes the winning candidate will garner, and even on the possibility of an Electoral College tie.
Of course, it's all somewhat irrelevant in the United States, since betting on election outcomes is largely prohibited. But it shows just how much oddsmaking has evolved on the other side of the Atlantic. While betting on the overall U.S. election goes all the way back to the '70s, the exotic wagers started to emerge in just the past decade -- as a way to attract bettors seeking bigger payouts.
"People want to get down into the minor details to hit the jackpot," says Alex Donahue, a spokesman for Ladbrokes, the leading British bookmaker.
Well, "jackpot" is a relative term, but some of the bets do offer the possibility of a longshot-level prize. For example, a gambler who goes with President Obama in the Montana race could collect a 10-to-1 payout, based on current Ladbrokes odds. (By contrast, a bet on Republican contender Mitt Romney has the potential for a paltry 1-to-50 payout meaning the bettor earns $1 for every $50 wagered.)
But if you're seeking much bigger money, Ladbrokes is offering a 100-to-1 payout on an election outcome in which President Obama wins with 410-plus Electoral College votes (out of a possible 538). Betting on an Electoral College tie also offers a lucrative payout of 50-to-1.
Another source for unusual wagering, the Dublin-based InTrade exchange, went so far as to let gamblers bet on whether Romney would release more of his tax returns by the close of Monday. (It put the chances of that happening at 0.1%, which would have equated to a 1,000-to-1 payout.)
And what about a standard bet on the election? Ladbrokes has Obama as the 1-to-5 favorite, and Romney at 7-to-2. William Hill, another major British bookmaker, has Obama at 1-to-6 and Romney at 4-to-1; it also offers a different payout on Romney in Montana -- namely, 1-to-33.
William Hill spokesman Graham Sharpe says the interest in exotic bets reflects the new reality of politics, where there's a constant stream of information -- from television and the Internet -- shaping all aspects of the race. Plus, bookmakers have to find ways to drive new business: "Each time you do an election, you have to come up with something different," says Sharpe.
And the biggest tweak to the 2012 race? Bookmakers say it might be the fact that it's inspired them to start taking bets on the 2016 contest, since one election fuels the other. Ladbrokes, for example, has a line on who will be the 2016 Democratic nominee, with Hillary Clinton as the 3-to-1 favorite and Chelsea Clinton as the 200-to-1 longshot. In the middle of the pack are such potential candidates as Andrew Cuomo (12-to-1), Al Gore (66-to-1), George Clooney (100-to-1) and Michelle Obama (100-to-1).
Either way, it equates to real money -- for the bookmaker, that is: Ladbrokes expects to take in more than $1.5 million in presidential wagers this year.