Betting Odds Strategy

Traditionally, political pundits and campaign managers could pay big money for a pollster to return these kinds of odds. But new research by Wolfers suggests an intriguing alternative: Call a sports bookie, especially if the race is tight.

Wolfers, an assistant professor of economics who as a youth worked for a bookmaker in his native Australia, followed a hunch about the predictive power of betting markets in forecasting the outcome of political elections. With Andrew Leigh of the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, he co-authored a study examining the effectiveness of three tools for forecasting the outcome of Australia's 2001 federal elections: economic modeling, opinion polling, and betting odds.

While the study found that all three methods performed reasonably well, it introduced, for the first time in Australia, a new source of data for predicting elections-betting statistics from one of the country's largest bookmakers. The study's provocative conclusion is this: Particularly in marginal seats, the press may have better served its readers by reporting betting odds than by conducting polls.

$200 on poker and Asian games like Pai Gow. The law took effect Jan. 1, 1998 — four months before the opening of Lucky Chances. It prohibited "expansion of gambling" in existing casinos, which state officials say includes unlimited betting. Now, faced with losing 16 percent of their annual budget because of the limit, the City Council is calling the language of the Act confusing and its application arbitrary, since Artichoke Joe's Casino of San Bruno continues to enjoy unlimited betting with state approval. They point out that the state division, part of the Attorney General's office, did not find fault with unlimited gambling when Lucky Chances opened in 1998. "For seven years, we've had this practice. For seven years, the state never said anything to this town," said City Attorney Roger Peters. The city stands to lose as much as$1.8 million annually as a result of betting caps. The casino generates about $3.7 million a year for the city — one-third of its total budget. "The money has become the town's backbone in terms of our ability to provide services," said Assistant City Manager Laura Allen. Confronted with a number of possible penalties, including loss of the casino's license, the City Council voted unanimously to limit betting to $200 on Wednesday. At the same time, however, they voted to revoke those limits if a state bill is passed allowing it; if the town were to win a legal challenge against the state; or if a majority of Colma voters overturned the limits. The town has not yet asked a judge to rule on the matter, but it has hired a lobbyist to meet with legislators in Sacramento. The council decided to hold a special meeting early next month to authorize a citywide vote on the issue. It was not clear what legal weight a vote would carry, since the Division has said it would violate state law if it were to become effective before the year 2010. The council also passed an ordinance to consider language proposed by Lucky Chances to skirt the new limits by placing more betting squares on the tables, thereby increasing maximum betting limits. The casino voluntarily introduced $200 betting caps on its poker and Asian games for the first time on Wednesday. Division of Gambling Control spokesman Nathan Barankin said that his agency first learned of Colma's unlimited betting from their Bay Area competitors. Those competitors were allowed to continue unlimited betting because they had received their licenses before the creation of the Gambling Control Act, whereas Lucky Chances had not. Staff Writer Julia Scott covers North County and the Coast. She can be reached at (650) 348-4340 or at [email protected] . RETURN TO TOP

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