Google, Yahoo, Microsoft Want to Legalize For-Money Prediction Markets
May 8, 2009 2 Comments
$500 on the U.S. economy turning positive in the first quarter of 2010!
Wouldn’t it be great if you could put money down on your predictions of future events? If Google, Yahoo and Microsoft get their way, you just might be able to do that.
Back in September 2008, Google and Yahoo, united under an organization called Coalition for Internal Markets (CIM), wrote a 28-page letter articulating their support for the legalization of small stakes prediction markets. On April 9, 2009, Microsoft added its support to Google and Yahoo’s letter. Here’s an excerpt from the CIM letter:
CIM believes that small-stakes event markets of the kind first developed by the Iowa Electronic Markets have the potential to provide significant public benefits and recommends that the Commodity Futures Trading Commission propose regulations under which such markets may operate, both as internal markets or as public markets.
I learned of all this through Oddhead, Midas Oracle and Bo Cowgill’s blogs. This has the potential to be quite powerful as a forecasting tool, and a way for people to profit from their prediction acumen.
Just how did this come about?
Commodity Futures Trading Commission Wants Input
The Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) is the government body that regulates the sale of commodity and financial futures and options.
In May last year, the CFTC put out a public notice that it was soliciting comments on the regulatory treatment of financial agreements offered by prediction markets. So apparently the idea of legalization is on the Commission’s mind. The CFTC distinguishes prediction markets as not including financial agreements on market prices (stocks, cotton, etc.) or broad-based measures of economic or commercial activity. Rather, they define them as:
Event contracts may be based on eventualities and measures as varied as the world’s population in the year2050, the results of political elections, or the outcome of particular entertainment events.
“Entertainment events.” Think American Idol, and putting your money down on who you predict will win. That Adam Lambert?
The CFTC notes that its staff has received “a substantial number of requests for guidance” on the propriety of prediction markets’ use. Sounds like a pretty healthy interest in this sort of thing.
Getting Ahead of the Regulatory Curve
- CFTC has the right to regulate these markets
- Prediction markets provide substantial benefits
- Propose a set of sensible rules for regulation
Google states that it started operating internal prediction markets in April 2005, and that now it runs 25-30 prediction markets per quarter. The purposes of the markets include forecasts of product demand, internal performance (e.g. product release dates), company news and external business environment factors. Google also uses the prediction markets to assess the strength of relationships between different teams.
Yahoo operates internal prediction markets. It also operates public events, such as the Yahoo!-O’Reilly Tech Buzz Game, in which participants predict which technologies will be popular, and which ones lack merit.
The two primary benefits discussed in the letter for predictions markets are: (i) Generation of useful information by aggregating the opinions of individual participants; and (ii) Hedging exposure by making predictions related to some position an individual holds.
The two companies then smartly propose some rules that would govern the small stakes prediction markets:
- Total exposure per market of $2,000
- Maximum loss at $2,000 over the course of a year
- Non-intermediated, electronic markets
- Trading could be matching bids and offers, or there could be an automated market maker
- Program to monitor trading
- Maintain trading histories for five years
Generally, the letter asks for a fairly flexible approach to the markets, with adherence to core operating principles to ensure fair, open trading.
An Inevitable Question: Gambling?
Perhaps as you’ve read this, the thought occurred to you…isn’t the same thing I can do in Las Vegas? Bet on sports teams? What distinguishes this from gambling? Indeed, in its solicitation for comments, the CFTC asks this:
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?
The CIM letter notes that gambling is generally associated with sports events and games of chance. It recommends the CFTC develop a definition of permitted markets based on a set of examples, and expand the list on a case-by-case basis.
This question will likely receive the most attention from the public. What will be interesting is how Obama’s administration views this versus Bush’s.
Count Me In
Add my YES vote to this. I think it’d be great to buy and sell positions based on predicted event outcomes. The example I led this post off with, the economic rebound, is a great way to tap public sentiment about the economy. We’ll have to watch how this unfolds.
How about you? Do you favor small stakes prediction markets?