If I had a nickel for every time I heard a case called “The Trial of the Century,” I’d be a rich man. But I don’t. Some people, however, do, and it’s because they place real money wagers on these types of cases.
Recently, I was elated when I saw that one of my favorite television shows had made it to Hulu. I was a big fan of Boston Legal. I loved the interaction between the main characters Alan Shore (played by James Spader) and Denny Crain (played by William Shatner).
I’m also a fan of the prequel to Boston Legal, The Practice and a show in the same “universe” as both Ally McBeal.
As I sat and rewatched the entire series of Boston Legal and the first 3 seasons of The Practice on Hulu, I saw something that I know is unethical and possibly illegal in the “real world” but the actors in these series got away with (for the most part), and that was betting on their cases.
On The Practice, lawyer Eugene Young bet that he’d win his case with opposing counsel on at least 2 occasions. In one case, other lawyers in the firm jumped in on the action. He won his case each time.
On Boston Legal, the 2 main characters, Alan Shore and Denny Crane, bet on a few cases, with Shore betting on himself. The last occurrence of this, Crane was trying to win by informing a court clerk of the bet, causing the judge to refer Shore and Crane for disbarment.
Shore also bets on cases with rival Brad Chase and wins, although no repercussions were experienced for the actions.
But that was TV, and it was portraying lawyers. Those same codes of ethics don’t apply to people who aren’t in the legal profession.
And there have been some big cases to bet on.
In what was one of the most publicized trials of the 1990s, the case of OJ Simpson is engrained in American culture to this very day. TV shows and movies still are produced dramatizing the case and its aftermath.
The murder of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman took place on June 12, 1994.
OJ Simpson was eventually arrested after the famous low-speed white Ford Bronco chase that an estimated 95 million people watched as the situation panned out on June 17th.
The 9-month long trial started on January 24, 1995.
But the betting started before that.
Keep in mind, in 1995, the average person didn’t have access to a computer, nevermind the internet. So betting on the case didn’t take place on online betting sites.
Betting in Las Vegas, Atlantic City, and other known gambling venues selectively took bets. These casinos were ones that already took prop bets.
People wagering on the trial had a long time to do it. It was over 15 months from the time Simpson was arrested to the time the verdict was rendered.
And the public was polarized as to whether he was guilty or not.
While documentation of odds is lacking regarding the case, odds were in favor of OJ being found guilty, especially as the case drew to a close.
Those who bet on acquittal made a lot of money, as on October 3, 1995, OJ was found not guilty on both murder charges.
The estate of Nicole Brown Simpson (namely the Children of OJ and Nicole) and the estate of Ron Goldman (namely Ron’s father Fred) sued OJ civilly for the murder.
In a criminal case, a person must be found guilty beyond any doubt. This means that if there was a possible scenario where someone else other than Simpson may have done it or that Simpson was not involved, he had to be acquitted.
But in a civil case, the burden of proof is a “preponderance of the evidence.” This means that’s 50.001% of the evidence supports guilt, then OJ could be found liable.
Because the perimeters were different for the civil case, bookmakers tool action.
Bets were placed not only on a guilty or not guilty plea but on an amount to be awarded to the plaintiff if they won.
Both estates won a total of $33 million when the jury found OJ civilly liable for the deaths of both victims.
While on the subject of OJ, we would be remiss to not to mention his other trial.
On September 13, 2007, Simpson and some of his associates allegedly broke into a sports memorabilia dealer’s hotel room and stole several items. Simpson alleged that the items were stolen from him.
When Simpson went into the room with his cohorts, he wouldn’t allow anyone to leave. One of the associates threatened the dealer with a gun. In the 6 minutes that the event took place, Simpson reportedly shoved items related to him, Pete Rose, and Joe Montana into pillowcases and left.
Simpson was arrested and charged with the following:
The bookmakers took bets on each charge and the case in its entirety. The odds favored OJ being found guilty as many saw this as a case to get justice for the 1995 murder case that many felt he should have been found guilty of.
13 years to the day of being found not guilty of killing Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman, on October 3, 2008, Simpson was found guilty on 10 counts (all charges except the coercion with a deadly weapon since he was found guilty of the higher crime of burglary while in possession of a deadly weapon).
He was sentenced to 33 years in prison with a possibility of parole in 9. He was released on October 1, 2017.
Oddsmakers took bets on whether he’d be granted parole, whether he’d return to jail by January 31, 2018, and much more.
In late 2003 and early 2004, a case was being built against the “King of Pop” Michael Jackson. When all was said and done, Jackson was charged with or indicted on:
The trial started on February 28, 2005. It was a star-studded affair. Among the people who testified were:
The public had mixed reactions as to Jackson’s guilt. He had been accused a decade earlier but an investigation cleared him of charges, but he had settled out of court with the accuser.
This made the new charges more believable. The mother of the child that accused Jackson in 1993 testified in court, however, the child, by that time an adult, left the country to avoid testifying.
Bookmakers were taking action on the case, favoring a guilty verdict, as most legal experts believed that the prosecution had proved their case. Not to mention, Jackson’s erratic behavior between his arrest and the verdict didn’t help his image.
The jury deliberated for 5 days and on June 14, 2005, found Jackson not guilty on all counts.
After the acquittal, more accusers came forward. Some bookmakers were taking bets on Jackson being tried again, but he had moved from his fabled Neverland Ranch, where the alleged improprieties took place and split his time living in Bahrain and Ireland. Jackson died in 2009.
December 1998 saw a history-making trial. This time it wasn’t in a court of law, but in the building that makes the laws, the United States Congress.
President Clinton had been deposed previously in a case where he was accused of sexual harassment by a woman named Paula Jones. During the depositions, it Clinton was asked if he had a relationship with a White House intern named Monica Lewinsky.
The President denied the accusations specifically stating, “I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky.”
Jones’s attorneys were sent secret recordings of the relationship with Lewinsky. While the judge in the sexual harassment case ruled that the Lewinsky situation was not material to the case, Congress took action as Clinton had committed perjury.
On December 19, 1998, the House of Representatives filed articles of impeachment against the President on the following charges:
The articles of Impeachment laid out the case. The perjury charge was alleged because:
The obstruction charge was because the President allegedly:
The impeachment passed on these 2 counts by a vote of 228 to 206 on the perjury charge and 221 to 212 on the obstruction charge.
It’s important to point out that impeachment is similar to an indictment in a criminal court. All it means is that evidence supports the charges. Once a government official is impeached, the Senate then has a trial and a vote is taken as to whether to remove him from office. A 2/3rds majority is required to remove a person from office.
The trial started January 9, 1999, and continued through February 12th. On the 12th, the Senate voted 45 in favor of removal to 55 against removal. Clinton would go on to serve out the rest of his 2ns term.
The opportunities for betting on the impeachment was vast.
People had the opportunity of bet on 4 separate articles of impeachment (only 2 of which passed). They also had the opportunity to bet on any of the 4 articles passing.
Among some of the other betting options were:
Bookmakers favored Clinton staying in office as there were too many Democrats that supported him to allow that to happen.
Article III, Section 1 of the Constitution of the United States designates “The judicial power of the United States, shall be vested in one Supreme Court…”
No matter if a case starts out in a city court, county court, state court, or federal court, the United States Supreme Court has the final word. The only way to overturn a Supreme Court decision is by federal law or Constitutional Amendment.
Each year, the 9 justices decide on about 100 to 150 of the thousands of cases they’re asked to hear every year.
The Court tries to take the most pressing cases that will have the widest raging effect on other cases that may be pending. In some cases, several district appeals courts may have conflicting opinions on the same issue. In these cases, the Court will take these cases and combined them for a single decision to answer the question. In other cases, they may take a controversial issue and give a very narrow opinion affecting only the case involved, allowing for Congress to make a law or for another case that allows for a wider scope to be decided on.
About 25% of the cases that the Supreme Court hears has far-reaching implications. These are the ones that get the most publicity and as such, become the ones that are the most likely to bet on.
The oddsmakers on these cases pay attention to not only the previous decisions on the lower courts but which courts made the decisions.
For example, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals has the highest rate of overturned decisions. This is, in part, because the 9th Circuit has the largest area of any circuit, including the Pacific coast states, Hawaii, Alaska, and Pacific Island territories. The rate of decisions overturned in the last decade is about 80%. It is important to point of that the 9th Circuit hears thousands of cases. Only 150 total cases from around the country get heard at the Supreme Court. So the 9th Circuit may send only 10-20 cases a year to the Supreme Court.
So when odds are given on a case from the 9th Circuit, a bookmaker is likely to give the better odds to the case being overturned. The 7th Circuit traditionally has the least amount of cases overturned. They hover at 50%. So you’re likely to get even money bets on cases that emanate from that area.
This was a scenario where multiple cases were combined into one for the Supreme Court to decide. The case involved the following cases:
These cases all involved the recognition of same-sex marriage. At the time, states were individually responsible for recognizing marriage and no state was under the obligation to grant recognition to same-sex unions under the Defense of Marriage Act.
Same-sex couples were traveling to states that recognized same-sex unions to get married, and couples were wanting to have their home states recognize the marriages.
This was particularly important because states that didn’t recognize same-sex marriages didn’t recognize the right for these couples to adopt nor did it give them the right to divorce should they want to end the union because, in the eyes of the state law, no marriage existed.
The cases were consolidated, and arguments were heard on April 28th, 2015.
Oddsmakers gave the slight edge to the status quo, and that same-sex marriage wouldn’t have to be recognized by any state that didn’t want to.
The reason for this was the precedent set in the Supreme Court case Baker v. Nelson from 1972 that affirmed that a law limiting marriage to a man and a woman didn’t violate the Constitution.
However, the chance that Baker v. Nelson would be upheld was not a lock. With cases that overturned sodomy laws in 2003 and parts of the previously mentioned Defense of Marriage Act, there was a change that same-sex marriage would be allowed.
The betting on the case allowed for a number of options:
In the end, the Court sided with Obergefell, and same-sex marriages became legal in all states and territories.
When President Trump took office, he issued an Executive Order that restricted travel by persons from certain countries (mostly of Islamic origin) for a period of 6 months.
Trump claimed this was necessary to properly secure the country against weak immigration protocols that these countries employed.
The State of Hawaii, along with other states, sued the President to get the decision overturned. They took the case to a federal district court, and the court issues an injunction preventing the Executive Order from being enforced.
The case was appealed to the Supreme Court, and the court decided that President was acting within his authority and removed the injunction. The rest of the case was remanded back to the original court with the Supreme Court’s input.
This was another case where odds makers were split on what would happen. In most cases, both results were even money bets.
Betting options included:
It should be said that betting on court cases isn’t an everyday bet. In many cases, you may have to actually discuss the option with the bookmaker and they may have to set their own odds.
In cases where the court case is highly publicized, you may not have to ask, or if you do, the odds have already been set.
Some bookmakers won’t take these types of bets at all if they seem too close to call or if the case seems open and shut. In those cases, you may have to shop around to find someone to take the bet.
In each case, you can always wager with a friend.
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