Just when everyone thought the court battles over whether Joe Biden or Donald Trump won the 2020 presidential election were over, there’s a new entry in a new arena — small claims court.
Two longtime friends appear to be friends no more after Jeffrey Costa of Georgia decided to sue Sean Hynes of Florida over what was supposed to be a friendly bet.
It all began when Hynes, a Trump supporter, suggested the bet but later refused to pay up on their $100 wager.
The terms of the bet, as defined in a Facebook chat between the two men, was based on who won “the actual seat of the presidency” — once the election had been “settled by law.”
On Nov. 3, 2020, the two friends wished each other good luck and the day after Biden was named the winner, Costa texted Hynes that it was “time to pay up!!!”
Like many people who refused to acknowledge Biden’s victory, Hynes, 50, insisted that Trump might have actually won.
“Bro the elections are determined by the courts, not the networks,” Hynes insisted.
“No, they are not,” retorted Costa, adding that “there is no mathematical way for Trump to win.”
“I’ll gladly pay you after its [sic] settled by law,” Hynes replied.
Two days after the election, Costa continued to goad Hynes, asking “where is the cash?”
Hynes pointed to the multiple lawsuits that had been filed by Republicans to contest the election.
“Jeff. There are filed lawsuits that could easily go to the Supreme courts [sic] … Would you really feel good about taking my money if fraud overturns it?”
Over the following days and weeks, Costa repeatedly demanded that Hynes pay up, reminding him “It’s over.”
“Sometime before the inauguration/Electoral college … Learn the process bud,” answered Hynes, telling Costa to stop sending him links to news articles about the election results.
On Dec. 15, Hynes wrote a nearly 800-word explanation of the electoral certification process, including ways the Congress could potentially overturn the election.
“The Democrats, the media, social networks and globalists around the world will come unhinged and chaos will erupt. Bigly,” Hynes wrote.
Fifteen minutes later, Costa gave Hynes a one-day warning that if he did not “make the right choice” and pay the $100 they had bet, he would sue for the money.
That started a lengthy exchange on Facebook that ended when Costa wrote: “I’m honestly sorry it has come to this, but I’m a man of principles and believe in honoring your commitments.”
It actually took more than two weeks before Costa filed his “breach of agreement” claim in Pinellas County Small Claims Court, demanding not only that Hynes pay the $100 wager, but that he also pay $250 in court costs and $300 in interest.
By that time, Hynes had unfriended Costa on Facebook.
When the lawsuit became public, Costa received emails from as far away as England. One called him “super cool” for defending himself. Another was a threat from a Trump supporter.
Even Hynes reached out, offering to settle the dispute for $60.
“He told me it would save my reputation. But it’s not about the money. It’s about the principle. People have to live with the consequences of what they do,” Costa said when interviewed by The Legal Examiner.
Hynes could not be reached for comment.
Was the election bet legal?
Apparently Costa is not the only election gambler who has had to wait to collect his winnings. Many betting sites waited for weeks following the election to pay off those who bet on Biden.
Betting on elections is technically illegal in all 50 states. However, elections are high-interest, emotion-laden topics, as Costa and Hynes discovered, that are readily suitable to wagering.
According to the British gambling firm GVC, the $1 billion wagered worldwide on the 2020 election, was twice the amount bet on the 2016 contest between Trump and Hillary Clinton.
One gambler bet $5 million that Trump would win with private bookmakers on a Caribbean island. He lost.
Last year, the West Virginia Lottery briefly legalized election betting but within 24 hours changed its mind when it discovered the move violated the state’s existing election laws.
The only way currently that someone can legally bet on election results in the United States is through the New Zealand-based PredictIt website, which advertises itself as the stock market for politics and is authorized by the federal Commodities Futures Trading Commission. Instead of bets, you can buy and sell “shares” that predict the election results.
Currently, the PredictIt market is offering 23 “markets” involving the U.S. presidency, ranging from Senators’ eventual votes on convicting Trump in his impeachment trial to which party will win the presidency in 2024.
Although social wagering may be technically illegal in many states, it is a crime that is seldom enforced.
In Georgia, where Costa lives, election wagering is prohibited. The law also specifically bans making “a bet upon the partial or final result of any game or contest or upon the performance of any participant in such game or contest.’’
Florida, where Costa filed his small claims lawsuit, has extensive gambling laws. As they apply to social betting by adults in private settings, the state limits winnings to no more than $10 to qualify as penny-ante gambling and sharply curtails enforcement of gambling contracts.
Florida law (Chapter 849.26) states:
All promises, agreements, notes, bills, bonds or other contracts, mortgages or other securities, when the whole or part of the consideration if for money or other valuable thing won or lost, laid, staked, betted or wagered in any gambling transaction whatsoever, regardless of its name or nature, whether heretofore prohibited or not, or for the repayment of money lent or advanced at the time of a gambling transaction for the purpose of being laid, betted, staked or wagered, are void and of no effect.
How does small claims court work?
Florida small claims courts are county-based legal venues where parties can settle financial disputes valued at up to $8,000. Usually, the court will schedule a pre-trial conference and may order the parties to submit the dispute to mediation.
In Pinellas County, where Costa filed his claim, pre-trial hearings must be set within 50 days of the filing date of the claim. If the dispute cannot be settled, the judge will schedule a trial date during which the plaintiff (Costa) would be able to explain the claim, present evidence, and question the defendant (Hynes).
Costa submitted a transcript of the running online Facebook chat conversation he held with Hynes over more than a month. Costa says those chats are proof of an “oral agreement” that the two agreed to bet $100 on the election and discussed how or when the winner would be paid.
Any settlement or court award is certified by the court but collection of any debt is up to the claimant.