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Kavanaugh's chances? Online markets offer a perspective on his nomination

FBI to investigate Kavanaugh

How is Brett Kavanaugh doing? The Senate Judiciary Committee's Republican majority has been steadfast in its support for President Donald Trump's Supreme Court nominee, and the Democratic minority has been steadfast in its opposition. Online betting and trading sites offer a different perspective on Kavanaugh's chances of securing a seat on the Supreme Court.

On Thursday morning, as Christine Blasey Ford began her testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee, describing how she was allegedly sexually assaulted at a party by Kavanaugh when both were in high school, Kavanaugh's chances of winning the 50 or more votes he needs for confirmation sunk to 35 percent on the online political market site PredictIt.org, a project of the University of Victoria in Wellington, New Zealand. 

At 3 p.m., just after Kavanaugh started his forceful denunciation of Ford's allegations, trading volume spiked to nearly 50,000 contracts, indicating a vast shift in who bettors thought would win. By 4 p.m., as Republican senators showed their clear support for him, Kavanaugh's chances of winning confirmation had risen to 56 percent on PredictIt.

"The market price is a real-time poll of how forecasters are reacting to the news," said Will Jennings, a spokesman for PredictIt. "They seemed to support her story and it looked like we may in fact not confirm. But once Kavanaugh started talking, they reversed a bit from what they were in the morning."

By 8 p.m., the odds were even more in Kavanaugh's favor, reaching as high as 65 percent.

What's next in the Kavanaugh nomination?

PredictIt functions more like a futures market or a commodity market than a gambling site, with odds indicated by the price users are willing to pay for a potential payoff.

Online gambling sites including BookMaker.eu and Heritagesports.eu offer more traditional gambling prospects. According to BookMaker, Kavanaugh's chance of confirmation jumped from 25 percent Thursday morning to 66.7 percent after he completed his testimony, according to the sports betting site ActionNetwork.com.

On Friday morning, as the Judiciary Committee prepared to vote on sending Kavanaugh's nomination to the Senate floor for a full vote, the flip was confirmed, as PredictIt bettors gave Kavanaugh an 84 percent chance of getting confirmed to the court. That dropped to 65 percent as the committee agreed to recommend Kavanaugh's nomination.

A few minutes later, Sen. Jeff Flake, an Arizona Republican, issued a statement calling for the final vote on Kavanaugh to be delayed while the FBI completes its investigation into Ford's allegations. That's when bettors on PredictIt punctured Kavanaugh's balloon, and his chances fell as low as 59 percent before recovering slightly.

"Presuming tomorrow is a relaxed day, you may get a little more sober forecast, since there's not so much news going around," said PredictIt's Jennings.

Political betting is not necessarily a proxy for what the bettors would like to see, but an indication of how they believe the event will end, he said.

"That's what makes it a great predictor of winners and losers," said Jennings. "When people are invested, you tend to think a little more with your head than your heart if you don't want to lose your money." 

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