Steve Friess: Who I’m Betting Big On In The 2024 Presidential Futures Market And Why

Written By Steve Friess on January 2, 2024
Steve Friess And State of Play 2024 Presidential Election

State of Play with Steve Friess

State of Play is a column that focuses on the trending stories in the casino and gambling space with sharp and clever insight from senior staff writer Steve Friess. Over his 25-year career, Friess has contributed to publications such as Newsweek, Time, New York Times and more.


I looked away for a few weeks. Got busy with other stuff. Tuned out most of the political news.

And when I took a peek at where bettors — err, “investors” — on PredictIt were at regarding the inevitable matchup next year between President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump, I could hardly believe it.

So I’m coming off the sidelines, putting my money where my mouth and keyboard are.

For the past month, PredictIt’s market on the 2024 presidential winner has persistently given better odds to a twice-impeached, four-times-indicted lifelong grifter whose most significant presidential achievement was stacking a Supreme Court to eliminate the right to abortion.

That’s idiotic. That’s absurd. That’s an amazing opportunity to make money.

I just put $500 down — err, I bought 1,200 shares at 39 cents each — on Biden to win. That means if Biden wins and I hold on to my shares through the election, I’ll pocket more than $1,200.

To many veteran gamblers, that probably doesn’t seem like that much money, but it’s the holidays, I’m a little cash-poor, and my sports bets rarely exceed $10 anyway. Also, the limit per person on any single outcome on PredictIt is $850. So, in those contexts, that’s a serious wager.

I do need to clarify that betting on politics is technically illegal in the United States. We must use this other verbiage because it’s a futures market where investors buy shares that rise and fall like corn or wheat futures do. PredictIt is operated out of Victoria University in New Zealand under an agreement with the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission as a research experiment. Because Americans are putting their money on predictions for outcomes directly against one another and not against a casino or house, it’s not considered “gambling” the same way betting on sports or poker is.

With that caveat out of the way, why did I do this? Here are five reasons.

No. 1: Trump is a historic loser

No, really. That’s not a pejorative. It’s an empirical fact.

The Republicans haven’t had a good election cycle since the alleged billionaire rode his garish elevator down to announce his first presidential campaign.

Sure, sure. He won the presidency in 2016. He also enjoyed both the benefit of the doubt of some Hillary-hating Republicans and independents as well as some wild lucky breaks in doing so. But the GOP also lost two seats in the Senate and six seats in the House of Representatives that year. Oh, and he won the presidency by the skin of his teeth in the Electoral College while losing the popular vote by 3 million votes. For context: In 2008, when Barack Obama first won, Democrats picked up eight Senate seats and 21 House seats.

Alas, 2016 is the last time he could even tangentially be seen as winning anything involving the nation’s voters. The next go-around, in 2018, his team lost 41 House seats — the most Democratic pickups since the height of Watergate in 1974. In 2020, not only did he lose the election in spectacular fashion by giving Democrats states like Georgia and Arizona, but Republicans lost the U.S. Senate by losing both seats in Georgia.

Then, in 2022, during off-year elections when the party out of the White House almost always wins big, Republicans picked up a mere nine House seats, took control of the chamber by just four votes and gave away winnable Senate races in Arizona, Pennsylvania, Nevada and Georgia. They also lost governor races in Maryland, Arizona, Kansas and Wisconsin thanks to Trump-loving candidates. Then, the GOP majority spent its first year in power unable to agree on a leader, much less deliver anything useful for the people.

And remember that Election Day 2022 came after months of runaway inflation and repeated interest rate hikes. Gas cost $4 a gallon then. And still, Democrats vastly overperformed.

Now we’re supposed to believe that perennial loser Trump’s worked it out, that he’s got Biden on the ropes, that he’s about to win back millions of people repulsed not just by him personally but by the pride he takes in stacking a Supreme Court that deleted the federal right to abortion.

Ya think?

No. 2: Trump will be on trial all year long

It is not a small thing that the former president is facing 91 charges of various felonies and misdemeanors across four indictments.

Sure, he’s a professional victim who never misses an opportunity to mislead lemmings and cash in on their blind loyalties and fantasies that his legal problems are really an attack on them, too. This is a guy who wants people to believe they can buy a piece of the suit he wore when he took a scowling mugshot.

So, yeah, he’s got his millions of admirers. They’ll ride-or-die with him. Fine.

But the rest of America? The folks who voted him out because his antics and lies and unabashed racism and lack of tact or dignity or respect were at a minimum a constant embarrassment when they weren’t also deadly? The folks who watched the riots and desecration on January 6 in horror? The folks who heard him admit he wants to be a “dictator on day one” and shudder?

Those folks aren’t coming back to him. They might not be thrilled with Biden, but they certainly aren’t going to get sweet or enthusiastic when they see Trump traipsing in and out of court, when they hear or read the evidence that he defrauded banks and fomented insurrection and hid classified documents in his ornate shower.

There won’t be a day during the 2024 campaign when the nation won’t be reminded of what this man is accused of and what he’s already been found liable for in our courts.

It is true there are polls showing him beating Biden right now. They are utterly meaningless. On Dec. 12, 1979, President Jimmy Carter held a 60-36 lead in a Gallup poll of the matchup with Republican Ronald Reagan. Four years later, Reagan trailed former Vice President Walter Mondale, his eventual Democratic opponent, 50-44. On Oct. 11, 2011, Barack Obama trailed Mitt Romney 46-42 in a Quinnipiac poll.

I am intrigued by other current polling, though. Most Americans support the indictments, according to a Politico Magazine/Ipsos poll, and believe his interference in the counting of Georgia ballots in 2020 was illegal, per a poll for The Economist. More recently, most respondents told YouGov pollsters they support the Colorado Supreme Court decision to boot Trump from the primary ballot because of his involvement in fomenting the Jan. 6 insurrection and other efforts to undermine the transfer of power after the 2020 election.

Americans aren’t madly in love with Biden, sure. His low approval numbers confirm that.

But they are passionate about something else: They want Trump to go away and/or be put away.

No. 3: The economy is about to take off

I understand the frustrations with Biden on inflation, even though it was primarily the fault of many factors related to emerging out of the pandemic rather than much of anything he did.

But Americans have short memories. If the GOP thinks Americans have forgotten about the Jan. 6 attack or the perpetual chaos and incompetence of Trump’s term, then they must also know that voters won’t punish Biden for the price of eggs in 2022 when the economic fundamentals in the fall of 2024 are great.

The economic record so far is an astounding success. Employers have added 19 million new jobs under Biden. Unemployment rates for Hispanics Black women, and people with disabilities have never been lower. Median home prices are now in the mid-$400,000s, up from the low-$300,000s for most of Trump’s term. The stock market is at record highs.

All of this was before the Fed began lowering interest rates, as it hinted it would possibly do three times before the election.

People are going to be feeling good. That’s no good for Trump.

No. 4: Yes, it’ll be Biden vs. Trump

Perhaps the best reason to hedge on Biden as the winner is because some people believe he’ll end up not running either by choice or old-age medical necessity. That requires people to buy into the whole notion that he’s doddering, incomprehensible, unwell, and inept.

Believe that if you want. Then, when he goes out and makes speeches and does interviews or has endearing moments with voters that remind everyone what a good and decent man he is, the public will be reminded that they’ve been lied to repeatedly about Biden’s capabilities and intellect.

He also has no serious primary competition. The nomination is his for the asking, and he’s asking.

It is certainly true that Biden will win largely because he’ll be up against Trump. But even if Republicans realize that in time and somehow former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley displaces him as the GOP nominee, that’s not the end of it.

Does anyone think Trump will say, “Oh, OK. You won. Bye, now!”

No. He’ll burn the party down. He’ll run as an independent or urge his supporters to stay home or some other act of political sabotage.

And here’s the thing: When the race consolidates to Biden vs.Trump, both will have better odds of winning. A share of Biden at 38 cents right now will necessarily have to go up to at least 47 or 48 cents just because in a head-to-head matchup, his chances of winning will be better than 38%.

Ka-ching.

The intangibles aren’t that tangible

What about Hunter Biden? Nobody cares.

What about the disastrous exit from Afghanistan? Nobody remembers, much as they should.

What about a third-party candidacy by the likes of Jill Stein or RFK Jr. or Joe Manchin? Currently, there’s no indication they’re getting traction that would damage Biden.

What’s interesting about the PredictIt markets right now is that there is a lot of contradiction. Consider:

  • Biden is given a 39% chance at winning in the Biden vs. Trump horse race.
  • Biden is a 74% favorite to win the Democratic nomination.
  • The Democrats are favored at 54% to hold the White House (with whoever their candidate is)
  • Democrats are far more favored to win the Electoral College.

All of that adds up to Biden to retain the White House as an absurd bargain.

I love a good deal, don’t you?

Read more from the State of Play column:

Photo by AP photos (Biden by Alex Brandon; Trump by Andrew Harnik)
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Steve Friess

Steve Friess writes the State of Play column for PlayUSA twice a week. He's a veteran gambling-industry reporter who began covering Las Vegas in 1996 and covered the openings of resorts in Asia, Europe, and across the U.S. His bylines have appeared in The New York Times, Playboy, New Republic, Time, BusinessWeek, Newsweek, New York magazine, and many others. He, his husband, their children and three Poms live in Ann Arbor.

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