It’s official: This was the biggest political betting event of all time. Previously dominated by UK general elections and US Presidential races, the indyref turned out to be bigger than any of those. From the huge interest in our betting shops in Scotland to the staggering amounts matched on the exchanges, it’s clear that this has smashed all previous numbers.
I think it was something to do with it being an issue that people felt much more strongly about than party politics along with the central proposition being a simple binary YES/NO choice that caused it. The fact that the race was reasonably close in the final stages was a big help too, although it was never anywhere near being the “toss-up” that the media portrayed.
The biggest price you could ever have got NO at with Ladbrokes was the 4/9 that it briefly hit in the wake of the YouGov poll showing YES in the lead, when YES hit it’s all time low of 7/4.
The betting on the YES vote percentage was also a huge heat for us, the amazing feature of which was the non-stop support for it going above 55%, even before the polls tightened in the last few weeks. That would have resulted in the worst loss ever for Ladbrokes on a non-sports market, but it never looked very likely. We got lucky with the vote dipping below 45%; the 40-45% band was the optimal result for us and was never bigger than 3/1 at any stage in the last 12 months.
We also got a break with the turnout betting, having completely underestimated the chances of it being as high as it was. In the end, we just escaped a very nasty hit that would have occurred had it gone over 85%. The punters who shrewdly took advantage of our initial 16/1 quote about it being over 85% have had one of the best value losing political bets ever.
Dundee rewarded favourite backers in the top YES percentage area betting, always having been odds-on. Spare a thought for the people who backed Inverclyde to go YES at 3/1, who lost out by under 100 votes. Another good value loser.
The main political betting lesson to take out of the indyref was a familiar one; anecdotal “on the ground” evidence is a very poor substitute for a dispassionate examination of the polls and the political science. Unsurprisingly, posters in windows turned out to be a poor predictor of the final result.