There isn’t a bookie anywhere on the Internet who will give you odds on the Texas gubernatorial election. Maybe there’s a dank sportsbook somewhere in Vegas or Atlantic City, where you can place a bet on literally anything, where there’s someone who’s drawn up some crude metrics for laying odds on a race like this one. But the big books online—offshore sites like PaddyPower or Bovada or Sportsbook.com—aren’t going anywhere near Davis/Abbott.
You can bet on other races in American politics, of course. Hilary Clinton sits at -225 to take the Democratic nomination for President in 2016, miles ahead of her closest competitors, Elizabeth Warren and Joe Biden. (Julian Castro, meanwhile, hovers as a 50/1 longshot, alongside luminaries like disgraced former Senator John Edwards.) You can bet on the chances the Democrats retain control of the U.S. Senate (+800) or that the Republicans will lose control of the House (where you have to lay out $200 to get a dollar back). You can bet on some statewide races, too: the bookies like Jean Shahan (-250) over Scott Brown (+140) for New Hampshire Senate, and Cory Gardner (-900) over Mark Udall (+450) in Colorado. But in Texas, nothing.
Betting is illegal in Texas, but that’s not the point. Bookmakers are professional prognosticators, laying out odds for a living not for ideological reasons, but because if they can get action on both sides of a bet, then they’re guaranteed to make money when the results come in. As such, they’re the best place to look for a hint about what’s going to happen pretty soon. Vegas is wrong sometimes, but the house always wins in the end because they get it right a lot more often than they don’t.
But nobody is taking odds on Davis and Abbott, despite the fact that it’s a fairly high profile race for a gubernatorial election, for a pretty simple reason: it’s hard to imagine that they can lay out odds that would get anybody to put money on Wendy Davis to actually win the thing.
There’ve been plenty of pre-mortems written for the Davis campaign over the past few weeks. The Christian Science Monitor ran with “What happened to Wendy Davis? Texas’ once-rising star set to fall,” while the Associated Press decided that the “New Question In Texas” was “Can Davis Survive Defeat?” Politico asked “Could Wendy Davis sink Battleground Texas?,” Nate Silver’s sabremetrics gave Davis a 0.6% chance of victory, and Bloomberg declared that “Texas Isn’t Turning Purple” before asking “What Happened?” Despite the early obituaries for the campaign, the state has decided to march on and hold the election anyway, but you can’t blame the bookies for deciding that searching for gamblers desperate enough for a longshot victory to put their money on Wendy Davis to win on Tuesday night is a money-losing venture.
A 0.6% chance of victory is still a chance of victory, so we’ll refrain from opining on whether the Davis campaign sabotaged Battleground Texas or if Battleground Texas sabotaged the Davis campaign until after the votes are counted; we’ll hold off on questioning whether Texas becoming a competitive state for Democrats is two or six or forty years away; we’ll save the “Davis sunk her campaign the day she decided to [whatever the conventional wisdom decides sank her campaign]” for another day. But we’ll ask: If we were taking odds on this race, where would we set them?
Like Vegas and the offshore sportsbooks, laying a straight moneyline—that is, a bet where you’re gambling outright on the final outcome—is probably for suckers. Nate Silver’s 0.6% chance of victory translates to 166/1 odds, and that seems about right. (You might set the moneyline for an Abbott victory at +17000, to make some extra money off of the bet where most of the action is.) Elections where you can bet $170 to make a buck are novel, but not really worth the trouble to hold them.
The better question, then, is how would you determine the spread?
This, ultimately, is the question that’s been the not-so-secret undertone of the Davis campaign since the moment she put her pink shoes on and catapulted from “obscure state senator” to “international political celebrity.” Even before the race started, the question has been less about “can Wendy Davis win” and more about “what constitutes a victory in a state where a Democrat hasn’t been elected to statewide office in a generation”?
In 2010, Bill White lost to Rick Perry by 12.7 points. That’s been seen as the bellwether for success for Davis among many: Can she do better than Bill White did? If so, does that indicate that Texas is moving in a competitive direction? But setting the spread for Davis at 12.7 points ignores some of the dynamics of the race. White was a popular former mayor of Texas’ largest city, but he also faced a mostly-bulletproof incumbent whom voters knew well. Davis, meanwhile, is a figure that inspired passion (and plenty of memes) from supporters all over the state, facing an opponent who was still introducing himself to voters as a candidate for a role as prominent as governor. If she does worse than White, that’s a legitimate failure.
So let’s set the spread at 10.5 points: significantly better than White, and on par with how 2006 Democratic nominee Chris Bell did in a wacky race that featured four candidates who landed double-digit results. If Davis loses by a margin of 55-45, Texas Democrats would—after drying their eyes in the days following the election—have little choice but to see that as a victory. Republicans with an eye toward 2018, meanwhile, would have to recognize that the trendlines are shifting in the state, and not in their favor.
We’ll lay off the predictions ourselves on which side of the spread we expect the final results to come in. After all, the bookie’s job isn’t to actually predict the future, it’s to try to get equal action on each side of the bet. So the only question that’s left is: At a 10.5 point spread, where would you put your money?
(image via Flickr)