Why the winner of the Toronto election is literally anyone’s bet
Top (left to right): Ana Bailao, Olivia Chow, and Josh Matlow. Bottom (left to right): Mark Saunders, Mitzie Hunter and Brad Bradford.
Published Saturday, May 20, 2023 8:16AM EDT
Last Updated Saturday, May 20, 2023 8:16AM EDT
With five weeks left in Toronto's mayoral election, the race is starting to get a little more interesting — and garnering more interest for that matter.
Monday saw the first major election of the race with five out of the top six polling candidates taking part. Front-runner Olivia Chow took heavy fire, but lobbed back answers to most of the questions which were aimed her way.
The first poll released since the debate seems to reflect a decent performance, with Chow maintaining her lead. But Ana Bailão has gained ground. The latest poll puts her at 21 per cent support, within nine points of Chow (30 per cent) among decided voters. That's a six point bump for Bailão compared to the last poll done by Mainstreet Research a week earlier.
Mark Saunders, who did not take part in the debate due to a conflict, dropped from 12 to 10 per cent support according to the poll, which surveyed 1,125 voters by phone May 16-17 and has a margin of error of +/- 2.9 per cent, 19 times out of 20. Josh Matlow stood in third spot, with 14 per cent support.
As things heat up the oddsmakers are getting in on the action, with betting platform FanDuel Sportsbook offering people a chance to place a wager on the outcome of the election.
According to FanDuel, the company is offering betting on the election as part of its “novelty betting” category to “help put probabilities against the everyday moments that people in Ontario care about.”
(People can also place bets on Victoria Day weather and the next Raptors head coach).
For now, the platform heavily favours Chow at -250, the equivalent of a more than 70 per cent chance. That means a person would have to wager $250 in order to win $100 betting on her, a difficult feat considering bets are capped at $100.
The book puts Saunders at roughly 5:1, Bailao at roughly 6:1, Hunter at 13:1 and Bradford and Matlow at 17:1. The long-shot odds are 50:1 for Kevin Clarke, the candidate who rushed the stage at Monday night’s debate, nearly tearing down the backdrop before he was ushered away by security.
FanDuel says it has seen “strong early interest” in the election so far (betting went live on May 8).
“Bettors are excited to be able to make their picks as to who next Toronto’s Mayor will be,” the company told CP24.com “We aren’t able to share specific data on the number of bettors but can say that the level of interest in the Mayor of Toronto is the highest of any of the novelty markets we currently have available.”
But anyone trying to read the tea leaves on the election from the FanDuel odds would be wise to use caution.
The odds on the platform aren’t so much predictive as they are designed to entice people to make wagers, according to James Bisson, editor-in-chief of Sportsbook Review, a sports betting information and analysis site.
“Generally, what they try to do is keep the candidates close together, they read the same news articles that we do, they watch the same TV shows and what happens is the trader for the site that's responsible for setting the odds will establish an initial market based on the information that he has.”
According to FanDuel, election markets are “somewhat similar to sporting markets” for formulating the odds.
“You can take data from polls, previous elections, sentiment within the community, trader opinion, as well as news stories, to determine the probability of a candidate winning, and then turn that into a numerical figure that a person can bet on,” company says.
From there, people who understand the political landscape better will start making bets and the platform will then shift the odds to limit the liability, according to Bisson.
“Political markets are genuinely quite fascinating,” Bisson says, adding that “there's always so much movement relative to sports, it doesn't take much to significantly move the odds for a candidate in an election market.”
He cites the 2020 U.S. presidential election for instance.
“Trump's number for example, was bouncing all over the place because sports books were trying to get people to bet on Donald Trump at different numbers because they were looking to balance liability,” Bisson says.
He says “the beauty of political markets” is that they move much more than sports markets ever could hope to because traders don't know as much about politics as they do about sports.”
That means that once a market opens, it tends to follow the money in terms of who is getting the most bets.
If you happen to be a political junkie and you think you have the election winner pegged, then you likely still won't be able to make a fortune. Bets are capped at $100 for novelty categories, FanDuel says.
While Bisson says he plans to place a bet on the election, he cautions that betting sites are “definitely not” the place to look if you're trying to accurately predict the outcome of an election.
“They are more a barometer of sort of public activities. So I wouldn't use them as polling data and they don't necessarily lean fully into polling data themselves while they're setting these numbers,” he says. “They're looking at balancing the amount of money coming in across especially the top candidates so that again, they can come out ahead.”
So where’s the smart money if you want to pick a winner for fun?
“My biggest suggestion when it comes to betting on political markets in particular is if you if you know who you like, look for value, not emotion or passion,” Bisson says. “So again, these numbers move all the time. I would just say keep a close eye on them. If you want the best number you might have to be patient so don't jump on a particular candidate now. Wait, see where the number goes.”
With a wide field pf candidates and polls indicating that between a quarter and a third of voters are still undecided, it seems Torontonians are following the same advice when it comes to figuring out how to cast their ballots.
- With files from Jordan Fleguel