Archive for the 'Betting' Category


Punters could still be under-rating the chances of No Deal

Saturday, February 9th, 2019 chart of movement on the Betfair exchange

The route to any other outcome is fraught with difficulties

You might think that with 94% of the time between the referendum and the scheduled Brexit Day now gone, we’d have some idea as to when and how Britain will be leaving the EU. Arguments about conceptual arrangements would have been better had in 2016 rather than in the final weeks. Instead, even the question as to whether the country will leave remains in doubt. No such luck.

The measure of that uncertainty is evident in the current status of the Withdrawal Agreement. Despite Theresa May having secured a provisional deal and despite parliament having overwhelmingly rejected it, it remains in some political quantum state, neither dead nor alive but capable of either.

In fact, there are four possible outcomes to Brexit and with markets surrounding them, it’s worth looking at their respective chances. The best way to do so is through process. How can we get there?


The most radical outcome would be to not Brexit at all. The CJEU very helpfully gave departing states the right to revoke Article 50 notification unilaterally. Not that that means the ball is entirely in Britain’s court, as we’ll come on to.

In theory, Britain could simply revoke and that would be that. In practice, it’s not so simple. Most obviously, Theresa May leads a political party which is overwhelmingly backed by Leavers and has Leavers as an overwhelming share of its members. A majority of its MPs might have backed Remain in 2016 but, like the PM herself, are now committed to Leaving. A U-turn is not only against May’s many-times declared intent (not that that’s stopped her U-turning before) but also would be such anathema to enough Tory MPs, with further extra-parliamentary pressure, that she couldn’t deliver it without being deposed.

Could someone else? The only realistic alternative is Corbyn, who is himself committed to Brexit (it’s notable that Labour’s Brexit ‘policy’ until recently was to secure a general election, which is not an objective not a policy – what would they have done had they won it?). Further, it’ll be almost impossible to force a change of government, either within the Commons or via an election before March 29. For someone else to take the reins requires an A50 extension. We’ll come back to that.

May’s Deal

Ah yes: the undead. Not everyone hates the 600+ pages of text, though lots do. Even so, for all that it’s worse in the eyes of many MPs than their preferred options, it’s rarely the worst option of all (though for the DUP, it probably is). For MPs opposed to No Deal and unable to secure any other outcome, it’s the only means of doing so and has the huge benefit of being acceptable to the EU. (This assumes that the European Parliament will sign it off, though the signs are that they will).

Unfortunately, it’s not quite so simple as that. It’s not just a single vote to approve the deal that the government needs but a whole Act of Parliament to implement it (this of course goes for any deal). Putting together an ad hoc ragbag coalition across the House on a one-off basis to get the Withdrawal Agreement through will be hard enough; to repeat the trick time and again through the many stages of legislating (in both Houses), so much harder. And again – this is up against the clock: unless both ratification and legislation can be complete before the end of next month, an Article 50 extension will be needed.

A different Deal

Here be unicorns. This so-called option or outcome has bedevilled the process ever since the PM returned from Brussels with her underwhelming document. Critics all know what they don’t like and if only the government and/or EU would agree to remain in the Customs Union, or remove the backstop, or provide a withdrawal mechanism, or mirror EU social and employment legislation – and so on – the MPs would vote for it.

Two problems with that. The first is that the EU has been firm that it won’t reopen the text, and the second is that these various groups chasing different aspirations are contradictory, so even if the government and EU could shift position and renegotiate a text it took 18 months to negotiate within the space of weeks, there’s still no guarantee that there’d be a majority for it in the House.

In fact, the EU might not be so unyielding if the UK were to ask for softer exit terms and/or offer some other concession but it’s clear that’s not what May is asking for. Besides, the N Ireland backstop – at the root of the difficulty in ratifying the existing deal – goes beyond customs alignment so a permanent customs union is not of itself enough to obviate the need (as the EU and Dublin sees it) for the backstop.

No Deal

This is the easiest route to plan and the hardest to assess. It’s what happens if nothing else is agreed, by the time the clock runs out. That might or might not be March 29 (we could have an A50 extension to the end of June and still end up with No Deal), but it is still the default, absent anything positive being agreed.

Red Herrings

What about second referendums, changes of government, general elections and so on? The simple answer is that these are not outcomes, they’re events along the way (or, in some cases, possibly afterwards). They might influence a particular outcome but they are not, of themselves, destinations.


If Brexit was easy, we wouldn’t be where we are. No Deal is intolerable and the rest may well be unachievable. But against the immovable object of indecision runs the remorseless and irresistible force of time.

I really don’t see the EU moving its red lines, even at the cost of a No Deal outcome (note that even if nothing has been agreed by 29 March, it might still be possible to resurrect the original deal as a scramble back to some sort of framework.

Likewise, I don’t see any value in a general election for the government. There may be an election, if the DUP feel sufficiently betrayed but we’re not there now. There is merit in the value of a public vote but an election is messy, doesn’t guarantee a clear winner, mixes up all sort of issues and puts the government at stake.

What is, I think, still much more possible than is being given credit for, due mainly to the fact that neither front bench wants it, is a second referendum. A referendum holds two main advantages. Firstly, it can be made binding and all the provisions can be put in place in advance, contingent on the outcome. That reverses the normal process and so gives everyone an incentive to cross the T’s and dot the I’s in advance. And secondly, it gives enough people a stake in the process to create a natural majority – though the price would have to be a three-way vote, with both Remain and No Deal on the paper, alongside the original deal (assuming no new one has taken its place).

Not that that would be simple. We’d be talking about new, complex, legislation plus a lengthy campaign, which probably couldn’t be completed before the autumn. Would the EU grant such a long extension? One that goes into the next European Parliament’s term? There has to be some doubt and if it didn’t, then we’d be straight into No Deal.

There is a path to May’s Deal and to Remain, though both are fairly tortuous but any other deal looks very unlikely. As it stands, No Deal looks by some way the most likely outcome, mainly by default rather than design. After all, the entire process has been marked much more by cock-up than conspiracy. Why should we expect that to change now?

David Herdson


Punters start backing O’Rourke again after he tells Oprah he’ll make his mind up by the end of the month

Thursday, February 7th, 2019

And Biden’s plans remain a mystery

The big developments in the WH2020 race have been an appearance by one-time Democratic nomination favourite, Beto O’Rourke on Oprah’s V show and reports on BuzzFeed that the man toping the nomination polling, 76 year old Joe Biden, has made no contact at all with the states that hold their primaries first.

O’Rourke, who seemed to to be in a strong position after running Ted Cruz close in last November’s Texas race, had barely done anything since and the betting money money moved away from him. This compared with the betting move towards the high-profile California Senator, Kamala Harris, who launched her effort two weeks ago.

With so many contenders trying to make a mark a lot is going to depend on what happens in the early states to decide – Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina. A good start in the Iowa caucuses could make a big difference. What makes the latter intriguing is that the state’s decision is not made by a secret ballot open to all voters but on those who attend on of 1,600 precinct meetings on a cold February evening next year. Good organisation there is at a premium.

This is why the first port of call for serious White House contenders is generally Iowa and why there’s quite a bit of surprise that ex-VP Biden has yet to make a move in that direction. Signing up the most experienced and knowledgeable organisers is an important first step. It might be a year off but activity needs to be taking place now.

The latest Betfair betting has Harris on 23% with O’Rourke and Biden on 13%.

Mike Smithson


A 2019 general election no longer favourite in the year of next GE betting

Thursday, February 7th, 2019 chart of movement on the Betfair exchange

Corbyn’s strategy shift seems to being having an impact

One of the most volatile current political betting markets is on the year of the next general election. This is ultra-sensitive , clearly , in a situation like at the moment where the governing party does not have a majority and is totally divided on the big issue of the day.

This was accentuated by the main Labour strategy being to use TMay’s plight and the Article 50 deadline to use its position to go for an early general election rather than, say, a second referendum on Brexit.

The fervour of the Labour approach appears to have waned partly, I’d suggest by the relatively poor poll ratings for the party and its leader. Corbyn & co are clearly ultra keen to avoid being blamed for Brexit.

TMay’s “confidence and supply” partners, the DUP, have been using their position to exert the maximum leverage but my guess is that will be tempered by not taking any action that could risk Corbyn becoming PM. The Labour leader’s positioning during “the Troubles” is still remembered in Northern Ireland.

Betting on a 2019 reached nearly touched a 50% chance following initial reaction to Mrs May’s deal for which she struggles, still, to win the blessing of the Commons.

Having followed these markets closely for decades the general rule is that punters are more likely to overstate the chances on an early general election. This is one where generally the best betting option is to lay.

Mike Smithson


The Tusk Tweets that suggest TMay is facing an uphill task

Wednesday, February 6th, 2019

It is extraordinary that nearly 32 months have passed since the Brexit referendum and still it is not clear what Leave actually means. A large part the problem, of course, is that unlike a government that is returned to power with a manifesto, those charged with implementing the referendum outcome are not the same as those who fought it.

A total of 17.4 million people might have voted Leave but that only amounted to 51.9% and it is hard to see quite what the outcome actually means even at this late stage.

    I offer no words of wisdom on this except that if we do leave in whatever form a lot of people will feel that their expectations have not been met and that will be a dominant feature of British politics in the years to come.

Assuming, and there can be no certainty here, that an exit does take place then the post-Brexit phase looks to be as politically turbulent. It is very hard to predict the next two months never mind the next five years.

When I want to cheer myself up I think that this could all be like the “Millenium bug” that so dominated the news ahead of 1999 move to the year 2000. In the run up there was scare story after scare story which all, as it turned out, failed to materialise.

The latest Betfair betting has it as just a 26% chance that we will leave on March 29th as planned. My money at the moment is on it happening. TMay seems doggedly determined to stick to the timetable.

Mike Smithson


Yet another Democrat Senator prepares to fight for the WH2020 party nomination

Tuesday, February 5th, 2019 chart of movement on the Betfair exchange

For those not following this on a daily basis the fight to become the Democratic nominee gets even more complicated whenever you look at. The latest news is that Minnesota Democrat Senator Amy Klobuchar is heading to Iowa a sure sign that a presidential bid is in prospect.

Other Democratic party senators to have declared are Elizabeth Warren, Tulsi Gabbard, Kamala Harris and Kirsten Gillibrand. On top of that the old-timer duo of Joe Biden and Senator Bernie Sanders are also looking at their options.

I backed Amy Klobuchar some time ago at 40/1 and her bid could be a strong one. She’s been a Senator since 2006 has good reputation and comes over very well on TV.

Mike Smithson


Trump’s approval now ratings far worse far worse than at the midterms when the Dems gained 41 house seats

Monday, February 4th, 2019


The big political polling numbers that get most attention in US politics are the President’s approval ratings and these are seen to be good predictors of electoral outcome. Thus the 10% approval deficit that Trump had ahead of the November midterms was enough for pundits to predict that the Republicans would lose the House by some margin. That is what happened.

Since then we’ve had the government shutdown when 800k federal employees went without pay for nearly 5 weeks, the threat of the President taking emergency powers to build his wall, and the the attempt to find an agreement before February 15th when the current government funding resolution expires.

The Real Clear Politics polling average, seen in the chart above, shows how damaged the Trump now is in these predictive ratings. He’s now nearly 4 and a half points worse off then he was in November and that doesn’t look good.

Things, of course, can get better and we learnt from 2016 how effective Trump is mobilising his base ahead of an election. There are signs though that his base is narrowing with some polls finding that he’s struggling with working-class white males who have been his biggest supporters.

His re-nomination is far from assured with several leading figures contemplating a run.

On Betfair it’s now just a 30% chance that Trump will be re elected in November next year.

Mike Smithson


I’m not convinced the Tories are going to let TMay fight a second general election as party leader and PM

Monday, February 4th, 2019

Betfair exchange betting price from

The betting barely moves in spite of the speculation

Sundays are usually my day off and am only now catching up with the speculation over the weekend of an early election. The idea is to find a means of getting away from the Brexit deadlock and a different composition of the House of Commons would help. Clearly the problem is that it’s hard to see anything relating to Brexit commanding a majority of MPs.

Over the weekend the talk has been of a general election being planned for June the 6th which of course is the anniversary of D-Day. The headline looked dramatic in a Sunday paper but how realistic is this?

    To my mind a big issue is TMay herself. After losing the Tory majority in June 2017 the message we were getting from large parts of the Conservative Party was that Theresa May would not be allowed to lead the blues into the next general election.

Indeed this was reinforced by commitments she was forced to make before Christmas when there was a confidence vote on her leadership by the parliamentary CON party.

Managing to move from CON poll leads of 20% plus when the election was called to a vote margin of just 2,5% on the day spoke volumes about her capabilities as a campaigner. This undoubtedly has impacted on her thinking and having burned her fingers once with an early election call she’s going to be even more ultra-cautious about doing the same again.

Against this is the massive pressure of the Article 50 timetable. We are just 53 days away from the planned exit and something has to happen.

I should add that my predictions in the past on TMay calling early general elections have been wrong. I was as taken aback as anybody by her announcement in April 2017.

Mike Smithson


The January 29th 2019 amendments and the extension rumours

Sunday, February 3rd, 2019


Earlier in January Parliament debated a deal with the European Union. The deal was formally known as the “Withdrawal Agreement”[15] and Parliament subjected it to a vote referred to as the “Meaningful Vote”, which was lost 432 to 202.[16] Subsequently seven amendments were scheduled for debate on January 29.[18][17] Five of those amendments failed but two amendments were passed.[17]

One of the failed amendments was “amendment B”, better known as the Cooper amendment. It would have provided time to enact the European Union (No. 3) Bill 2017-19, which would in turn instruct the Government to ask for an extension to Article 50 in the absence of a deal. This amendment did not enjoy support[19] and was defeated. The ones that passed were the “Spelman amendment I” which advised no-deal but did not compel it, and the “Brady amendment N” requesting that the Withdrawal Agreement be changed to replace the “backstop” (a provision to prevent unilateral divergence) with an alternative.

At this point, the course seemed set: an extension would not be sought and the Government would attempt a modified deal or leave on schedule without one. But then something counter-intuitive happened. The failure of the Cooper amendment meant that the Government could not be forced to seek an extension, but it could still seek one voluntarily. Rumours of this possibility had previously been low-key[20] but in the days immediately after the amendments they began to increase. The Foreign Secretary[21], the Chairman if the 1922 Committee[22], the chairs of Conservative party associations[23] and the chairman of the pro-Brexit European Research Group[24] all suggested that an extension was possible.

So an extension had moved from possibly compulsory, to rejected by Parliament, to necessary and desirable, and all within a single week. This affected the odds of the UK leaving the European Union on 29th March 2019. Snapshots of those odds are listed below.



The amendments caused the odds of not extending Article 50 and leaving on time (regardless of deal) to shorten and the odds on an extension to lengthen, but the rumours broadly reversed those changes. Anybody placing a bet between the amendments and the rumours might therefore feel foolish.

Gamblers may wish to consider the odds of no-deal offered by Betfair Sportsbook (“Brexit Deal – Withdrawal Agreement to be approved by The Council of the EU and UK Parliament before 30-03-2019: Yes 11/4, No 2/9)[5]: this is noticeably different from other odds of no deal, eg Betway (“Will there be a No Deal Brexit: Yes 51/20, No 1/4)[9].


Viewcode is a statistician who works in the private sector

References in the piece above are available by clicking here.