As the country waits for ballot tallies in a handful of battleground states, there’s plenty of fodder for anxious bettors to fret about while we wait to learn who the next president will be. With a handful of post-election day lawsuits already threatened in Michigan and Pennsylvania, and perhaps more to come in Nevada, Arizona, and Georgia, formal certification of the vote and a payout for a record number of bettors could be weeks, if not months away.

Michigan Vote Counters
Vote counters in Michigan work to come up with a final tally for the 2020 general election on Tuesday. Michigan is one state that may experience a recount (Image: AP)

Even when the final ballot is counted, there are still a number of steps that must be completed before either Donald Trump or Joseph Biden will be officially named as the next President-Elect.

The Certification Process

In a “normal” year, the certification process following a presidential election is pretty straightforward:

  • Ballots are counted
  • Results are certified
  • The Electoral College votes
  • The candidate with the majority is elected
  • The new president is sworn in

As we all know, however, 2020 has been anything but normal. As such, there are some scenarios, where we may not officially know who the winner is until 2021. For example:

  • Ballots are counted
  • Recounts or contested recounts are conducted
  • Lawsuits are filed and argued
  • Courts decide
  • Results are certified

If, for some unlikely reason, neither candidate wins a majority of the overall vote, it could fall to the US House of Representatives to elect a president. In another scenario, the decision could make its way up through regional and state courts to the Supreme Court as it did in 2000 when the margin of George W. Bush’s victory in Florida was so small, Al Gore filed suit to force hand recounts in four predominantly Democratic counties.  

Even barring all of the potential legal wrangling, experts warn a concession by either candidate may be a ways off.

“This election won’t be resolved until a losing candidate concedes defeat and congratulates his opponent,” said Edward B. Foley, an Ohio State University law professor told the New York Times on Wednesday. “If the candidates don’t give us finality that way, then the legal process has to give it to us.”

Complications Stand Between Bettors and Their Payouts

What does all of this mean to bettors? Patience will be key when it comes to waiting for their bets to payout, as one or more of the following scenarios are likely to play out.

  • Recounts: Pennsylvania is one state that initiates an automatic recount if the margin of victory is deemed to be close (usually within 1%.) In Nevada, candidates can request a recount regardless of the margin of victory. Look for either Trump or Biden, whoever is on the losing end, to request a recount in these states irrespective of the initial outcome. 
  • Contested results: Trump has falsely maintained elections are rigged since before the 2016 vote, but this year, even specious litigation over how votes are counted and whether some are eligible to be counted could end up in state and federal court, plausibly finding its way to the Supreme Court. 
  • Unresolved by the deadline: If all recounts and lawsuits are resolved by the Monday after the second Wednesday in December of the presidential election (Dec. 14, 2020), electors vote in their states. States usually appoint their electors to the winner of the popular vote. Nebraska and Maine assign electors by the congressional district, with two votes going to the statewide winner. 

Other Wild Cards that Could Delay Certification

If all of the recounts and lawsuits are not settled before Dec. 14, a state legislature could decide unverified election results are unlawful and appoint their electors as they see fit. In 2000, Florida’s Republican-majority legislature voted to elect a slate of electors backing George W. Bush even though the courts were still clogged with recounts. 

In a doomsday scenario for bettors looking for a payout, the governor of several battleground states could be from the opposite party as the controlling party of the legislature. Seeing as we’re not currently in the midst of an era of bipartisanship, this means some battleground states could technically appoint two electors from opposite sides of the political spectrum.

Both groups could potentially meet to vote in December, each claiming they have the right to elect the nominee of their choice, likely leading to a new round of legal wrangling and delay. 

The Bottom Line

A newly elected Congress will meet on Jan. 6, 2021 to formally count the electoral votes and name the president. If there is no clear winner in the Electoral College by then, Congress will hold a contingent election, and a president would be elected.

And a bettor can (finally) get paid. 


  1. cheers for such a great blog. Where else could anyone get that kind of info written in such a perfect way? I have a presentation that I am presently working on, and I have been on the look out for such info.

  2. Have the presidential bets been paid out? Lots of conspiracy theories flying around that they are not going to be paid out until March? Can someone please give clarity to this?