How to run enterprise prediction markets… legally

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Private Prediction Markets and the Law – (PDF file) – by Tom W. Bell – 2008-05-18


This paper analyses the legality of private prediction markets under U.S. law, describing both the legal risks they raise and how to manage those risks. As the label &#8220-private&#8221- suggests, such markets offer trading not to the public but rather only to members of a particular firm. The use of private prediction markets has grown in recent years because they can efficiently collect and quantify information that firms find useful in making management decisions. Along with that considerable benefit, however, comes a particularly worrisome cost: the risk that running a private prediction market might violate U.S. state or federal laws. The ends and means of private prediction markets differ materially from those of futures, securities, or gambling markets. Laws written for those latter three institutions nonetheless threaten to limit or even outlaw private prediction markets, as the paper details. The paper also details, however, how certain legal strategies can protect private prediction markets from violating U.S. laws or suffering crushing regulatory burdens. The paper concludes with a legal forecast, describing the likely form of potential CFTC regulations and a strategy designed to ensure the success of private prediction markets under U.S. law.


This paper has described the legal risks facing private prediction markets under U.S. law and how firms that want to runs such markets should respond. To minimize the risk of CFTC regulation, firms should institute mechanisms to ensure that their private prediction markets do not support significant hedging functions and make clear, both in the documentation supporting their markets and in their markets&#8217- structures, that they offer trading not in binary option contracts but rather in conditional negotiable notes. Publicly-traded firms subject to U.S. law can minimize the risks of illegal insider trading by either making public all prices and claims traded on their prediction market or by:
• Keeping trading by traditional insiders separate from trading by others-
• Broadening safeguards against illegal insider trading to cover all traders-
• Treating the market&#8217-s claims and prices as trade secrets- and
• Seeding the market with decoy claims and prices.

Although the skill-based trading emphasized on private prediction markets should in theory remove them from the scope of gambling regulations, a prudent firm could help to ensure that result by:
• Forbidding traders from investing their own funds in the market- and
• Requiring its agents to participate in its market.

As should perhaps go without saying (but as hereby will not), any firm implementing these legal strategies should back them up with ample record-keeping. Each person who trades on a firm&#8217-s market should, for instance, receive clear notification that the market does not deal in CFTC- or SEC-regulated instruments, and that it does not offering services subject to oversight by any state gambling commission. Better yet, traders should be required to access the market only through a click-through agreement in which, among other things, they consent to that stipulation. So go only a few of the provisions that ought to appear in such an agreement- any reasonably competent attorney will think of many worthwhile provisions to add.

Private prediction markets will almost certainly escape the legal uncertainty that now clouds their prospects in the U.S. Even if no legislator, judge, or regulator ever notices them, private prediction markets will come to win de facto legality simply by merit of their widespread use and acceptance. With reflection —perhaps aided by papers such as this one— and practical experience, attorneys will learn how to structure private prediction markets to accommodate the laws that rightfully apply to them and to dodge the effect of laws written for other, materially different markets. There remains some risk, granted, that the CFTC will crush private prediction markets under new regulations. With luck though —and perhaps also with some persuasion— the CFTC will instead allow prediction markets to choose from among several different tiers of regulations. And even in the worse-case scenario, private prediction markets will not disappear- they will simply flee the U.S. for other, freer homes.

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  1. The Best Resources On Prediction Markets | Midas Oracle .NET said:

    […] Private Prediction Markets and the Law – (PDF file) – (MO excerpts) – by Tom W. Bell – […]

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