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The Australian National University

Betting on Elections: History, Law and Policy

Graeme Orr (2014) 42 (2)

Betting on elections has a long history, despite periods in which wagers were unenforceable and even criminalised. In recent years, significant online markets have emerged, driven by the bookmaking industry in those jurisdictions which license betting on politics. These markets treat election wagers as a form of sports betting. This article examines the provenance and regulation of election betting in the common law. It charts this from early case law holding wagers involving electors to be void (as tainting voting decisions) through criminal prohibitions, some of which are still on the statute books (since wagers could disguise electoral bribes) and onto contemporary regimes for licensing electoral bookmaking.
Normative arguments about election betting and the law include the liberal harm principle, the precautionary principle and the concept of commodification. The article concludes that friendly wagers should be permitted, to allow partisans to intensify the ritual experience of elections. But bets involving politicians should be outlawed, and the industrialisation of election betting should not be encouraged given the risk of commodifying the values underlying electoral democracy.

Vol 42, Issue 2, 2014

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