The Case for Decrimininalization of Prediction Markets

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[This article is cross-posted from Major Wager.]

A recent article in the prestigious academic journal Science (May 16, 2008, Vol 320, p. 877-8) once again makes the case for regulated prediction markets, more commonly known as &#8220-betting exchanges&#8221- to online gamblers. The authors make the case that such markets are useful in forecasting future events with less error than traditional measures such as polling. This argument is hard to ignore, with the authors including 21 top economists from such esteemed institutions as Yale, Stanford, Berkeley, and the University of Pennsylvania. Notable among the authors is Justin Wolfers from the Wharton School of business at UPenn, an economist who has gained notoriety in gambling circles due to his work on such topics as NBA referee bias (highlighted in a May 2008 article from MajorWager: http://www.majorwager.com/index.cfm?page=27&amp-show_column=660).

The concept behind using prediction markets as a decision-making tool is simple. &#8220-Shares&#8221- are made available on an open market, and the participants use their capital (and the promise of profits) to make predictions on future events, which is incorporated into the share price. In general, information tends to be widely dispersed, and a market allows wide-ranging opinions to be gathered and consolidated into a market-wide prediction. In other words, an infinite amount of opinions can be aggregated, and an open market with potential for profit provides an incentive for individuals to make their opinions publicly known.

Prediction markets always get more than their fair share of press near the end of the 4-year U.S. Presidential election cycle. The Iowa Electronics Market, housed at the University of Iowa, is perhaps the most well-known. The authors of the Science paper show that, in the week immediately preceding the Presidential elections from 1988 through 2000, the Iowa Electronic Markets erred by an average of only 1.5 percentage points from the actual vote results, while the traditional Gallup poll was off by 2.1%. Numerous other studies have shown the superiority of markets compared to other forecasting tools.

Of course, there have been some dust-ups regarding prediction markets in the past, most notably the &#8220-terrorist strike market&#8221-, unveiled a little too close to 9/11 to be palatable to the general public. The official name was the &#8220-Policy Analysis Market&#8220-, and it was established by the Pentagon to act as a prediction market for Middle East political events. It was quickly scuttled after heated comments from U.S. Senators, calling it &#8220-grotesque&#8221- and &#8220-stupid&#8221-, due to the perception of using catastrophic events such as assassinations as profit-making tools. Regardless of its political correctness (and the misinformed opinions of a few politicians), such a prediction market still holds value as a glimpse into the collective mindset of everyone with an understanding of political currents in the region. Utilizing such a prediction market as a component of foreign policy decisions may have ultimately spared the U.S. much grief in Iraq.

In recent years, prediction markets have grown beyond academic and government roles. Dublin-based InTrade is rapidly growing and provides many more options than the Iowa Electronic Markets. Others such as MatchBook have focused more on sporting contests, but provide coverage of other events as demand calls. Of course, those outside the U.S. have access to the largest betting exchange of them all, the massive European markets of BetFair. The success of these exchanges speaks to the public interest and feasibility of prediction markets.

One factor holding back the growth of online prediction markets is their close association with the quasi-legal world of sports betting and internet casinos. InTrade has been fairly proactive in this regard, spinning off from Tradesports to clean up its corporate slate, but it is still knee-deep in the legal sludge surrounding offshore &#8220-gambling&#8221-. All have to deal with the legal and financial hurdles of operating offshore.

The authors of the Science paper propose that clarification of internet gambling laws is needed to exploit the benefits of prediction markets within the United States. Clearly, the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA) of 2006 is one such mechanism restricting the widespread use of prediction markets. Another is the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC), the regulatory agency which oversees futures markets in the U.S. The CFTC has provided a &#8220-no-action letter&#8221- to the Iowa Electronic Markets, an assurance that they will not seek any enforcement action against the exchange. However, this protection is not absolute and may not trump state and federal law if challenged. The Science authors propose a number of legal reforms which will allow prediction markets to begin to gain acceptance within the U.S. financial regulatory structure.

By no means does the Science article condone large-scale public markets, at least not initially. They take a (typically academic) conservative approach, recommending new legal framework to allow for the establishment of small markets with limited scope so as to evaluate the promise and use of prediction markets. But baby steps are going to be a necessity in the growth and acceptance of regulated public markets.

Clearly, there are negative aspects to financial markets, and regulation certainly has its place. Bear Sterns, Enron, the S&amp-L scandal of the 80s, and the current housing bubble all caused tremendous loss of wealth resulting from missteps in the financial markets. The current oil crisis is due at least in part to speculation, leading to the introduction of no less than 9 separate bills in the U.S. Congress seeking tougher regulation over the trading of commodities. However, the existence of problems in the financial markets does not necessitate their dissolution. Likewise, prediction markets are sure to encounter bumps in the road, but their utility should far outweigh the risks.

Should prediction markets be legalized in the U.S.? Almost certainly. They would have benefit across numerous industries, from business decisions to political policies to financial forecasting. Unfortunately, this would require building an unlikely bridge over the Puritanical moral moat placed around gambling in the U.S. But there is no inherent difference in betting on who will win in an election than what the price of oil will be in 6 months, or what the S&amp-P 500 will close at on a particular date. Distancing prediction markets from &#8220-illegal&#8221- gambling, and instead likening them to regulated financial markets, will be a necessary first step towards broader acceptance.

The academic groundwork on prediction markets has already been laid, and offshore exchanges have begun to turn these concepts into functioning businesses. As these markets grow and begin incorporating more diverse opinions, we can expect their success rate at predicting the future to only grow. To restrict such a promising tool simply due to its perception that it is a gambling outlet is silly indeed.

6-25-08
Jay Graziani
MajorWager.com
graziani@majorwager.com

[This article is cross-posted from Major Wager.]

The CFTC is going to close the comments in 12 days. We have 12 days left to convince the CFTC to accept FOR-PROFIT prediction exchanges, and counter the evil petition organized by the American Enterprise Institute (which has on its payroll Paul Wolfowitz, the bright masterminder of the Iraq war).

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THE MIDAS ORACLE TAKES:

– CALL TO ACTION: Let&#8217-s fight so that the CFTC allows the FOR-PROFIT prediction exchanges to deal with &#8220-event markets&#8221-.

– In the for-profit vs not-for-profit debate, our prediction market luminaries, doctored by Bob, are on the wrong side of the issue.

– COMMENTS TO THE CFTC: What to expect from Tom W. Bell and Jason Ruspini

BACKGROUND INFO:

CFTC’s Concept Release on the Appropriate Regulatory Treatment of Event Contracts&#8230- notably how they define &#8220-event markets&#8221-, how they are going to extend their &#8220-exemption&#8221- to other IEM-like prediction exchanges, and how they framed their questions to the public. Here are the comments sent to the CFTC.

– The Arnold &amp- Porter lawyers explain the meaning of the CFTC&#8217-s concept release on &#8220-event markets&#8221-. &#8212- (PDF file)

– What Vernon Smith told the CFTC.

American Enterprise Institute’s proposals to legalize the real-money prediction markets in the United States of America

APPENDIX:

Paul Wolfowitz&#8217-s profile at the American Enterprise Institute

– How the neo-cons drove the United States of America into the unecessary Iraq war

COMMENTS TO THE CFTC: What to expect from Tom W. Bell and Jason Ruspini

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For those who are just surfacing from an Afghan cave: Tom W. Bell is a law professor at Chapman University (in California) and Jason Ruspini is a Wall Street professional (in New York).

It seems that both will, independently of each other, write to the CFTC about the legalization of the &#8220-event markets&#8221- (here are the comments to the CFTC) &#8212-a bad term for the &#8220-non-hedgeable event derivative markets&#8221- (which is also, probably, a term that is quite awful to your ears :-D ). What to expect from them? (WARNING: This is highly speculative.)

TOM W. BELL

  • He will state the libertarian point of view &#8212-laissez faire, laissez aller. – [DISCLOSURE: I am a mid-core libertarian myself, so I like that.]
  • Overall, he will try to put up a basket of legal hacks &#8212-to establish that the real-money prediction markets should be as free as possible.
  • In particular, he will try to make the point that &#8220-event markets&#8221- should be covered by the laws governing &#8220-notes&#8221- &#8212-not by the laws governing &#8220-contracts&#8221-.
  • By doing so, he will tell the CFTC to go fugging themselves &#8212-since the CFTC is allegedly about &#8220-contracts&#8221-, not about &#8220-notes&#8221-.

JASON RUSPINI

  • He will state that all the real-money prediction markets should be covered by the CFTC.
  • He will navigate within the legal framework that the CFTC has established in their &#8220-concept release&#8221-. – [See this document from the Arnold &amp- Porter lawyers, if you wanna know what’s a “concept release”, in the mind of the CFTC regulators. – PDF file.]
  • He will be very careful not to offense those bureaucrats.

TOM W. BELL vs JASON RUSPINI

  • It&#8217-s great that the libertarian point of view is elaborated and disseminated to these bureaucrats. However, the CFTC is an agency, not the US Supreme Court Of Justice &#8212-and the fact that Tom W. Bell is right does not mean that he will prevail.
  • Jason Ruspini&#8217-s approach is extremely reasonable: he adopts the enemy&#8217-s point of view, and, from within, tries to maneuver the regulatory barriers to create as much room as possible. Also, Jason Ruspini will address only the CFTC questions which he grasps well. (Contrast that with some who spread themselves too thin, and answer all the CFTC questions, even those where they have no expertise or experience. Their answers are, and, will be totally ignored. It&#8217-s not what you say that is important- it&#8217-s what you say in relation with who you are to say that.) I&#8217-m pulling for Jason Ruspini&#8217-s approach.

TAKEAWAY

  • If Jason Ruspini does not fuck it up, he has the potentiality to influence positively the CFTC, and to become one of the great leaders of the field of prediction markets. Let&#8217-s wish for that. Our field needs courageous men (and women) with the right political compass and the sense of pragmatism.

THE MIDAS ORACLE TAKES:

– CALL TO ACTION: Let&#8217-s fight so that the CFTC allows the FOR-PROFIT prediction exchanges to deal with &#8220-event markets&#8221-.

– In the for-profit vs not-for-profit debate, our prediction market luminaries, doctored by Bob, are on the wrong side of the issue.

– A young economist rebuts the American Enterprise Institute.

BACKGROUND INFO:

CFTC’s Concept Release on the Appropriate Regulatory Treatment of Event Contracts&#8230- notably how they define &#8220-event markets&#8221-, how they are going to extend their &#8220-exemption&#8221- to other IEM-like prediction exchanges, and how they framed their questions to the public. Here are the comments sent to the CFTC.

– The Arnold &amp- Porter lawyers explain the meaning of the CFTC&#8217-s concept release on &#8220-event markets&#8221-. &#8212- (PDF file)

– The Schulte &amp- Roth &amp- Zabel lawyers&#8217- takes. &#8212- (PDF file)

– The Sullivan &amp- Cromwell lawyers&#8217- takes. &#8212- (PDF file)

– What Vernon Smith told the CFTC.

The American Enterprise Institute’s proposals to legalize the real-money prediction markets in the United States of America

APPENDIX:

Paul Wolfowitz&#8217-s profile at the American Enterprise Institute

– How the neo-cons drove the United States of America into the unecessary Iraq war

Jason Ruspini will answer SOME of these CFTC questions. – 12 days left, Jason.

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CFTC – (PDF file):

CFTC&#8217-s Concept Release on the Appropriate Regulatory Treatment of Event Contracts

V. Issues for Comment

A. Request for Comment

The following questions consider the Commission&#8217-s regulatory purview over event contracts, the interests that may appropriately underlie Commission-regulated transactions, and the appropriate regulatory treatment of event contracts. The Commission encourages comments on the specific questions posed, as well as the broad range of issues raised in this concept release. In providing comments, please describe your relevant experience and discuss in detail the facts and legal provisions that support your conclusions. Furthermore, please consider the Commission&#8217-s mandate to protect commodity futures and options markets and customers, and ensure the integrity of the commodity derivatives marketplace, as well as the expected effects of any Commission action on competition, efficiency, innovation and the financial integrity of transactions. Any recommendation with respect to the regulatory treatment of event contracts and markets should be consistent with and supported by the Act, practical, and amenable to effective and efficient implementation.

B. Public Interest

1. What public interests are served by event contracts that are designed and will principally be traded for information aggregation purposes and not for commercial risk management or pricing purposes?

2. How are these interests consistent with the public interest goals embodied in the Act?

3. What calculations, analyses, variables, and factors could be used to objectively determine the social value of information to the general public that may be discovered through trading in event contracts? Should this be a factor in determining whether the Commission plays a role in regulating these markets?

C. Jurisdictional Determinations

4. What characteristics or traits are common to or should be used to identify event contracts and event markets?

5. How do these characteristics and traits differ from those of commodity futures and options contracts that customarily have been regulated by the Commission? How are they similar?

6. Are there criteria based on the provisions of the Act that could be used to make jurisdictional determinations with respect to event contracts and markets?

7. Given the purposes and history of the Act, would it be appropriate for the Commission to apply a test premised on commercial risk management or pricing functions to demarcate the Commission&#8217-s jurisdiction over particular contracts? If so, what factors could be used to make such a determination?

8. Given the purposes and history of the Act, would it be appropriate for the Commission to apply any test premised on the economic purpose of certain types of transactions to demarcate the Commission&#8217-s jurisdiction over particular contracts? If so, what factors could be used to make such a determination?

9. What calculations, analyses, variables and factors would be appropriate in determining whether the impact of an occurrence or contingency will result in a financial, commercial or economic consequence that is identified in Section 1a(13) of the Act?

10. What calculations, analyses, variables, and factors would be appropriate in determining whether an economic or commercial index that is based on prices, rates, values, or levels should or should not qualify as an excluded commodity under Section 1a(13) of the Act?

11. What identifiable factors, statutorily based or otherwise, limit the events and measures that may underlie event contracts when such contracts are treated as Commission-regulated transactions?

12. What objective and readily identifiable factors, statutorily based or otherwise, could be used to distinguish event contracts that could appropriately be traded under Commission oversight from transactions that may be viewed as the functional equivalent of gambling?

13. The Commission notes that Section 12(e) of the Act generally provides that the CEA supersedes and preempts other laws, including state and local gaming and bucket shop laws, with respect to transactions executed on or subject to the rules of a Commission-regulated market, or with respect to transactions exempted from the Act pursuant to the Commission&#8217-s exemptive authority under Section 4(c) of the Act. What are the implications of possibly preempting state gaming laws with respect to event contracts and markets that are treated as Commission-regulated or exempted transactions?

14. Should certain underlying events or measures &#8211-such as those based on assassinations or terrorist activities&#8211- be prohibited altogether due to the social perception and impact of such events? What statutory or other legal basis would support this treatment?

15. Are there event contracts, such as political event contracts, that should be prohibited from trading under the Act, or that deserve separate treatment or consideration, due to the nature and importance of their outcomes? What statutory or other legal basis would support this treatment?

D. Legal Implementation

16. Is it appropriate for the Commission to direct certain or all event contracts onto markets that are regulated differently from and perhaps less stringently than DCMs? For example, it may be warranted or necessary to treat event markets that aggregate information solely for academic or research purposes, event markets set-up for internal corporate purposes, or event markets that offer exceedingly low notional value contracts to traders differently than markets that possess the attributes of traditional DCMs.

17. Is it appropriate for the Commission to use the Section 4(c) exemptive authority of the Act for implementing a regulatory scheme for event contracts and markets? In this regard, the Commission notes that it has the discretion to grant an exemption under Section 4(c) to certain classes of transactions without having to make a determination as to whether such transactions are subject to the Act in the first instance.

18. Is the issuance of staff no-action relief, such as the relief issued to the IEM, an appropriate or preferable means for establishing regulatory certainty for event contracts and markets? Is a policy statement appropriate or preferable?

19. What are the benefits and drawbacks of permitting certain event markets to operate pursuant to Commission established conditions that are similar to the conditions under which the IEM operates?

E. Market Participants

20. Would it be appropriate to allow market participants, and in particular, retail customers, to trade on Commission-regulated event markets with the knowledge that the Commission may not be able to effectively monitor the measures or events that underlie certain event contracts?

21. What unique protections and prophylactic measures are appropriate or necessary for the protection of retail users of event contracts and markets?

22. What are the implications of permitting the intermediation of event contracts, including intermediation on behalf of retail market participants, both with respect to trade execution and clearing?

23. Are there any types of trader or intermediary conduct, peculiar to event contracts and markets, that should be prohibited or monitored closely by regulators?

24. What other factors could impact the Commission&#8217-s ability, given its limited resources, to properly oversee or monitor trading in event contracts?

THE MIDAS ORACLE TAKES:

– CALL TO ACTION: Let&#8217-s fight so that the CFTC allows the FOR-PROFIT prediction exchanges to deal with &#8220-event markets&#8221-.

– In the for-profit vs not-for-profit debate, our prediction market luminaries, doctored by Bob, are on the wrong side of the issue.

– COMMENTS TO THE CFTC: What to expect from Tom W. Bell and Jason Ruspini

BACKGROUND INFO:

CFTC’s Concept Release on the Appropriate Regulatory Treatment of Event Contracts&#8230- notably how they define &#8220-event markets&#8221-, how they are going to extend their &#8220-exemption&#8221- to other IEM-like prediction exchanges, and how they framed their questions to the public. Here are the comments to the CFTC.

– The Arnold &amp- Porter lawyers explain the meaning of the CFTC&#8217-s concept release on &#8220-event markets&#8221-. &#8212- (PDF file)

– What Vernon Smith told the CFTC.

American Enterprise Institute’s proposals to legalize the real-money prediction markets in the United States of America

The CFTC is going to close the comments in 13 days. We have 13 days left to convince the CFTC to accept FOR-PROFIT prediction exchanges, and counter the evil petition organized by the American Enterprise Institute (which has on its payroll Paul Wolfowitz, the bright masterminder of the Iraq war).

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PREVIOUSLY:

– CALL TO ACTION: Let&#8217-s fight so that the CFTC allows the FOR-PROFIT prediction exchanges to deal with &#8220-event markets&#8221-.

– In the for-profit vs not-for-profit debate, our prediction market luminaries, doctored by Bob, are on the wrong side of the issue.

BACKGROUND INFO:

CFTC’s Concept Release on the Appropriate Regulatory Treatment of Event Contracts&#8230- notably how they define &#8220-event markets&#8221-, how they are going to extend their &#8220-exemption&#8221- to other IEM-like prediction exchanges, and how they framed their questions to the public.

– Arnold &amp- Porter lawyers explain the meaning of the CFTC&#8217-s concept release on &#8220-event markets&#8221-. &#8212- (PDF file)

American Enterprise Institute’s proposals to legalize the real-money prediction markets in the United States of America

APPENDIX:

Paul Wolfowitz&#8217-s profile at the American Enterprise Institute

– How the neo-cons drove the United States of America into the unecessary Iraq war

Who will write to the CFTC?

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CONFIDENTIAL:

&#8220-The Law Professor&#8221-, &#8220-The Brain&#8221-, and &#8220-The Blogger&#8221- are among those who will each send a comment to the CFTC in the coming 2 weeks.

UPDATE: This econ guy will write to the CFTC, too.

UPDATE: Indeed, he did&#8230- brightly.

The CFTC is going to close the comments in 16 days. We have 16 days left to convince the CFTC to accept FOR-PROFIT prediction exchanges, and counter the evil petition organized by the American Enterprise Institute (which has on its payroll Paul Wolfowitz, the bright masterminder of the Iraq war).

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Paul Wolfowitz&#8217-s profile at the American Enterprise Institute

PREVIOUSLY:

– CALL TO ACTION: Let&#8217-s fight so that the CFTC allows the FOR-PROFIT prediction exchanges to deal with &#8220-event markets&#8221-.

– In the for-profit vs not-for-profit debate, our prediction market luminaries, doctored by Bob, are on the wrong side of the issue.

BACKGROUND INFO:

CFTC’s Concept Release on the Appropriate Regulatory Treatment of Event Contracts&#8230- notably how they define &#8220-event markets&#8221-, how they are going to extend their &#8220-exemption&#8221- to other IEM-like prediction exchanges, and how they framed their questions to the public.

– American Enterprise Institute’s proposals to legalize the real-money prediction markets in the United States of America

CALL TO ACTION: Lets fight so that the CFTC allows the FOR-PROFIT prediction exchanges to deal with event markets.

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The second feedback I have received about my speculative post goes like this: &#8230-If some believe that the CFTC might rule that &#8220-event markets&#8221- should be treated only by not-for-profit, IEM-like, prediction exchanges&#8230- &#8230-while some others think that&#8217-s not the case&#8230- &#8230-even though a powerful American think tank is advocating that only not-for-profit prediction exchanges be allowed to organize &#8220-event markets&#8221-&#8230- &#8230-then all that means that this issue is probably still up in the air&#8230- &#8230-and worth fighting for.

I&#8217-m told people who favor for-profit prediction exchanges (and in their wicked mind, that includes the author of this post) should write to the CFTC.

UPDATE: NOT-FOR-PROFIT&#8230- or&#8230- FOR-PROFIT&#8230- That is the question.

UPDATE: In the for-profit vs not-for-profit debate, our prediction market luminaries, doctored by Bob, are on the wrong side of the issue.

BACKGROUND INFO:

CFTC’s Concept Release on the Appropriate Regulatory Treatment of Event Contracts&#8230- notably how they define &#8220-event markets&#8221-, how they are going to extend their &#8220-exemption&#8221- to other IEM-like prediction exchanges, and how they framed their questions to the public.

NOT-FOR-PROFIT… or… FOR-PROFIT… That is the question.

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The dilemma goes like this:

  1. If the CFTC allows for-profit prediction exchanges &#8211-&gt- that&#8217-s a good step forward (even though sports are excluded from the legal offerings)-
  2. If the CFTC allows only not-for-profit prediction exchanges &#8211-&gt- that&#8217-s a micro step forward (but still positive in the eyes of many).

BACKGROUND INFO:

CFTC’s Concept Release on the Appropriate Regulatory Treatment of Event Contracts&#8230- notably how they define &#8220-event markets&#8221-, how they are going to extend their &#8220-exemption&#8221- to other IEM-like prediction exchanges, and how they framed their questions to the public.

UPDATE: In the for-profit vs not-for-profit debate, our prediction market luminaries, doctored by Bob, are on the wrong side of the issue.

Will the CFTC allow FOR-PROFIT prediction exchanges to deal with event markets?

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The feedback I have received about my speculative post is that I put too much weight into the CFTC requesting that the prediction exchanges organizing &#8220-event markets&#8221- (event derivative markets that can&#8217-t be used for hedging risks) be not for profit &#8212-as the Iowa Electronic Markets is.

Just below, in bold, are the phrase and the word I&#8217-m told I have mis-read.

CFTC – (PDF file):

CFTC&#8217-s Concept Release on the Appropriate Regulatory Treatment of Event Contracts

D. Legal Implementation

16. Is it appropriate for the Commission to direct certain or all event contracts onto markets that are regulated differently from and perhaps less stringently than DCMs? For example, it may be warranted or necessary to treat event markets that aggregate information solely for academic or research purposes, event markets set-up for internal corporate purposes, or event markets that offer exceedingly low notional value contracts to traders differently than markets that possess the attributes of traditional DCMs.

19. What are the benefits and drawbacks of permitting certain event markets to operate pursuant to Commission established conditions that are similar to the conditions under which the IEM operates?

UPDATE: CALL TO ACTION: Let&#8217-s fight so that the CFTC allows the FOR-PROFIT prediction exchanges to deal with &#8220-event markets&#8221-.

UPDATE: NOT-FOR-PROFIT&#8230- or&#8230- FOR-PROFIT&#8230- That is the question.

UPDATE: In the for-profit vs not-for-profit debate, our prediction market luminaries, doctored by Bob, are on the wrong side of the issue.