Betting on politics: Australia catches out the bookies

Tony Smith © Getty images
Liberal Tony Smith still managed to win on second preferences

Saturday’s election in Australia proved embarrassing for bookmaker Sportsbet, which not only sustained huge losses on winning bets on the Liberal-National coalition, but also incorrectly paid out on a Labor victory two days early. Overall, it is reported to have lost a total of A$5.3m.

By contrast, the two handicap bets I recommended, at 1.11 on Betfair and 4/6 on Bet365, both paid off, as did my recommended bets on the coalition candidates in Aston (Victoria) at 1/6, Kooyong (Victoria) at 1/5 and Casey (Victoria) at 2/5, as well as in Hughes (New South Wales) at 1/5.

Indeed, not only did the coalition win in each of those constituencies, but the Liberal candidates managed to increase their share of the vote in Aston and Hughes. Even in Casey, the closest of the four contests, Liberal Tony Smith still managed to win on second preferences by a margin of just under 9%. Admittedly, since the bets were at short odds, they didn’t make a huge amount of money, but a return of 29% is still pretty decent.

Given that the Australian polling companies came in for a tremendous amount of criticism in the aftermath of Morrison’s victory, it may seem strange that one of the lessons from this election from a betting perspective is to pay attention to opinion polls. If you had looked at them closely you would have seen that Labor’s lead narrowed as polling day approach, and was never big enough to justify the landslide that some bookies and betting markets were predicting.