The indyref betting review

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.

North Lanarkshire could be the crucial early indyref result tonight.

Ladbrokes will have odds available on the referendum throughout the night until the result is declared (or I fall asleep).

Here are the Press Associations estimated vote declaration times:

If this is close, we’ll likely all be waiting for Glasgow. The latest Ladbrokes prices there make YES and NO joint favourites at 5/6.

To help make sense of the results, you might like to check out our odds on which region will have the highest YES vote percentage:

If Na h-Eileanan Siar (the Western isles) do declare first, we won’t be over-reacting to the result. It could easily prove to be totally atypical to the rest of the country, although our betting suggests it is more likely to go YES.

North Lanarkshire on the other hand could set the tone early on. This is one of the most populous regions and at the moment, we can’t split YES and NO:

If NO wins here, then I’d be fairly certain that Scotland is staying in the UK. A YES win with over 53% or so would indicate that the nationalists are on course to go very close.

Clackmannanshire at 2.30 could also be interesting – we rate this as the second most likely area to go YES after Dundee, so if they can’t win here, that will be a very poor showing.

As things stand, a YES vote will be a very expensive outcome for Ladbrokes. The money today is overwhelmingly for independence, although the odds remain unchanged at 7/2. Our best outcome would be a YES vote of between 40 & 45%, preferably with a turnout under 80%. We can now say with certainty that this has been the biggest UK political betting event of all time.

If this is on a knife edge, why is YES 7/2?

I’ve been in Scotland for a couple of days. Most people who don’t follow the betting were very surprised that there was such a big discrepancy between the odds for YES and NO, given that the media are telling us that this is variously a “coin toss”, “on a knife-edge” or “too close to call”.

Let’s look at yesterday’s three polls, all of which gave NO a 52-48 lead, excluding Don’t Knows. With the undecideds included, we have:

Pollster NO YES DK DKs for YES win
ICM 45 41 14 64.3%
Survation 48 44 8 75.0%
Opinium 49 45 6 83.3%

If these polls are an accurate picture of the electorate, then the nationalists’ best chance is to convert enough of those Don’t Knows to YES. The final column shows the percentage of undecideds who would have to go YES to pull them level. In my opinion, it is exceedingly unlikely that they will be able to achieve those numbers. In fact, political science tells us that it is much more likely that the opposite will happen and the undecideds will break for NO.

It’s worth pointing out that the improvement in the YES figures over the last two weeks seem largely to be a movement from DK into the YES column. So perhaps something different is going on in this referendum. The other main assumption that needs to be questioned is whether the pollsters really are accurately measuring opinion, given the unique nature of this vote. For a nationalist viewpoint on this, head for James Kelly’s blog.

On the other hand are there enough “shy unionists” to make a difference in favour of the NO campaign when it comes to the vote? Check out Stephen Fisher’s excellent review of all of these matters.

Can YES still win? Of course, but it’s unlikely unless the pollsters have got this very wrong. This certainly isn’t a coin toss and, if forced to make a prediction, I think we’ll see a reasonably comfortable NO win by around 55-45.

UPDATE:

Reported Panelbase figures are also 52-48 to NO. Significantly, with DKs included, it’s 50-45-5. So YES would need 100% of the undecideds to draw level.

Scotland still betting on YES

After four polls on Saturday, the betting markets remained largely unchanged, continuing to give YES something under a 25% chance of victory.

The last Saturday of the campaign saw the familiar pattern of Scottish based customers being more likely to back YES, but only just; English punters continued to side more strongly with a NO vote.

I’m flying up to Edinburgh today, for the Ladbrokes Referendum Race at Musselburgh tomorrow, and to spend a day in the city on Tuesday. Probably standing outside some Ladbrokes shops with some odds scrawled on a blackboard.

The Ladbrokes Referendum Race

We will be staging the @Ladbrokes #ReferendumRace next Monday on our #FREERACEDAY — MusselburghRaces (@MusselburghRace) September 8, 2014

That’s right. Ladbrokes and Musselburgh races are joining forces to sort this referendum out in equine form. A special two horse match race with Yes We Can battling it out against Neigh Thanks. We’re running the race at 1.40 on Monday, before the race meeting proper kicks off. It’s free to get in; I’ll be there!

Is the indyref betting market being skewed by English money?

The odds for a YES vote moved in again today, to 7/2 from 4/1. That’s a fairly significant shift since the second debate, when the odds were 9/2.

I’ve seen an argument recently that the betting markets don’t really reflect opinion in Scotland, because large staking English punters are backing NO and skewing the odds. Let’s have a look at all of the money Ladbrokes have taken on the outright result since the debate finished on Monday night, broken down by country.

That seems fairly conclusive evidence  – Scottish money has overwhelmingly been for YES. In terms of numbers of bets taken, the same pattern appears:

So, even though most bets from England are for YES, a few bigger bets mean that the actual total stakes are more in favour of NO.

Based on all of the bets we have taken this week, there is certainly some evidence to back up the claim that a small number of wealthier, English punters are keeping the YES odds at a higher level than they would otherwise be.

Does that mean the betting markets are “wrong” and underestimating the true chance of a vote for Independence and missing the real “feeling on the ground”? Maybe, but it’s also perfectly plausible that people who have less emotional capital invested in the result are forming a more objective opinion on the likely outcome.

 

Carswell odds-on to win Clacton for UKIP

You have to think that Douglas Carswell must be very confident of taking the seat for UKIP for him to have stood down in the first place. He’s in a part of the world which is demographically quite UKIP friendly and the party did very well in local council elections. This will be a hugely demoralising blow for the local Conservative party and, despite a twelve thousand plus majority, we think that Carswell’s personal standing makes him a strong favourite.

It’s certainly possible that Labour could sneak this by mopping up some of the Lib Dem vote and hoping that UKIP and the Tories split down the middle. However, we thought the same about Newark and they put in a fairly woeful display there.

I wouldn’t say that we saw this coming, but a few people had some small bets on Carswell to be next UKIP leader in the last week – his odds had gone from 100/1 to 33/1 even before this news; he’s 2/1 favourite now. We’d also taken some money from informed sources on UKIP to win Clacton at the general election at 20/1. I don’t think they were guessing.

We’ve cut the odds on UKIP winning a seat anywhere in the UK at the general election from 4/6 to 1/3. We’ve also quoted 6/4 that any other Tory MP defects before the general election. Nadine Dorries and Mark Reckless are a couple of names that spring to mind.

The UKIP Top Twelve Target Seats

Sky News have reported on some “internal UKIP polling”, which the say reveals UKIP’s top dozen target seats. Ladbrokes have odds on every seat in Britain and, based on those, we can allocate a probability of UKIP winning each of these twelve seats.

Seat Win 2010 Maj% UKIP Odds UKIP Win %
Thanet South Conservative 16.6 11/10 43.09%
Great Yarmouth Conservative 9.9 15/8 32.01%
Thurrock Conservative 0.2 2/1 30.34%
Boston & Skegness Conservative 28.8 5/2 25.76%
Thanet North Conservative 31.2 4/1 17.63%
Great Grimsby Labour 2.2 4/1 18.01%
Portsmouth South Lib-Dem 12.6 4/1 18.00%
Eastleigh Lib-Dem 7.2 5/1 15.03%
Sittingbourne & Sheppey Conservative 25.5 8/1 9.91%
Forest of Dean Conservative 22.7 12/1 7.02%
Worthing East & Shoreham Conservative 22.9 12/1 7.08%
Aylesbury Conservative 23.7 16/1 5.45%

The top three in the list are especially promising as there is every chance they could be three-way contests and something around 35% of the vote could win any of those.

If UKIP high command had just looked at Ladbrokes’ odds, then the bottom four on the list wouldn’t have made the cut. All look like ultra safe Tory seats and it will take a huge effort to win any of these. Aylesbury has a majority of over twelve thousand, but I guess the party are hoping to exploit the HS2 issue here.

Party workers in Castle Point, Folkestone and Rotherham will be a bit disappointed not to have been included, as the betting would suggest that they are all much better prospects than the likes of Forest of Dean.

We’ve got some betting on how many seats UKIP will win in total next year; it’s 5/1 that they manage ten or above.

Betting markets react to indyref debate

Salmond’s clear cut victory last night saw the odds of a YES vote cut from 9/2 to 4/1 with Ladbrokes. History tells us that any post-debate boost tends to mostly fade away pretty quickly, and there is no particular reason to think this will be any different. The odds on the exchanges dipped a bit immediately after the first debate poll, but rebounded pretty quickly. Most other bookmakers also cut the YES price, some to as low as 7/2.

The snap ICM poll last night seemed to indicate that it hadn’t changed the overall picture, but it will be interesting to see any polls later this week with fieldwork from the days after. If one of the more YES friendly pollsters is surveying today and tomorrow, it’s not inconceivable that we could see a tie, or even a YES lead. That really would shake the betting markets up.

There has also been a flurry of money on a high turnout after Salmond’s confident prediction that it would be over 80%. The odds of it being between 80 – 85% were cut from 7/2 to 3/1. I’ve written some more about turnout betting here.

Even though a NO vote would suit Ladbrokes’ betting position more at the moment, we were quite pleased that Salmond won as it helps keep interest in the outcome high. Another Darling victory might have sucked a bit of life out of the market.

Buzzword Bingo Results

For anyone who had a bet on our buzzword bingo debate market, we’ve settled the following as winners:

  • 1/100 Currency
  • 1/5 Plan B
  • 1/2 Tuition Fees
  • Evs Norway
  • 7/4 No Going Back
  • 3/1 Arc Of Prosperity