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Wagers can be placed on all kinds of stuff -- like whether a bird flu epidemic will hit the United States or if alien life will be detected before the end of the year. But Intrade isn't just about betting. Its users are -- taken together -- shockingly good at correctly forecasting election results.
Intrade bettors correctly picked the winner of every single state during the presidential election. And that is way, way more accurate than most single polls -- to say nothing of the predictions offered by the professional pundit class. The idea is this: Just like Wall Street, the collective wisdom of thousands of bettors with skin in the game will yield a better guess than isolated data points.
Just like a stock market, users react quickly. It took less five minutes for Rick Perry's odds to drop from 8. At the same time, Intrade users aren't shy about betting against a candidate who is doing relatively well in the polls. But nothing can guarantee total accuracy. Even with a monetary incentive, Intrade users don't always get it right. The site's users have difficulty in predicting more obscure events where limited amounts of data are available -- like early state primaries and other contracts that are thinly traded.
Thinly traded contracts give single users an outsized voice in the market, creating the potential for results that skew in one direction or the other. And around the margins -- when a candidate stands very little chance of winning, or has already locked up the race -- the market becomes far less perfect, Fair said.
That's because Intrade is really an exchange, meaning a bet can only be placed when a buyer can be found to take the other side of the contract, which becomes difficult with very high or low probability events. Intrade's Wolfenden said that political contracts are already attracting a substantial amount of trading.
So far, over 3, users have swapped some 2. In , 8, traders moved 9. Will President Obama win reelection? Intrade bettors are sitting on the fence -- along with most of the Washington establishment. John Poindexter, was forced to resign and the project was squelched.
In a recent interview with the New Yorker , Wyden suggested that he seized on the gambling experiments as pretext to kill a more sinister surveillance program Poindexter was pursuing. But Hanson says his research was a collateral victim. The logic of the marketplace has many proponents.
In his popular book The Wisdom of Crowds , financial journalist James Surowiecki extolled the accuracy of collective predictions, citing the success of experiments like a rudimentary election market run out of the University of Iowa. But lawmakers have shown extraordinarily little sympathy. The irony, of course, is that even as academics struggled to establish their fledgling markets, Wall Street was conducting its own experiment, with much more dangerous stakes.
In the late s, Congress passed a series of laws relaxing regulations on financial derivatives. Some of them had practical applications — a utility could buy weather futures to hedge its financial exposure to a heat wave — and some proved disastrous. Infamously, bankers invented derivatives to place trillion-dollar bets on home mortgages and the risk of credit defaults, which led to the near-implosion of the world economy when the real estate bubble collapsed in But long before any of that, in , some guys from the pits of New York's commodities exchange decided to start a website where you could speculate on current events.
The idea proved bewitching to Wall Street professionals, who were used to seeing the world in terms of probabilities, whether they were betting on interest rates or the Jets. Murdoch bought in, as did many others. The site's initial focus was on sports, but it also offered markets on elections, box office returns, and geopolitical events.
Intrade began, essentially, as a wager in itself — on the possibility that the U. But it launched into the maw of the dot-com crash, and instead of loosening up on gambling sites, U. Though Intrade operated out of Ireland, a country with a permissive attitude toward bookmaking, Bernstein and his partners had always seen their home country as the site's primary market.
Betfair, a publicly traded and very respectable British company, dominates Europe, but excludes American customers. But U. Bernstein and Intrade's other founders distanced themselves from management, ceding control to their top Irish executive, an accountant named John Delaney.
The new CEO was left to run the ailing shop with minimal interference. The startup was limping toward a quiet death until it stumbled into an unforeseen bit of luck: the war in Iraq. In the excruciating buildup to the invasion, the world media discovered a curious website was giving odds on the chances of war. Later that year, for reasons never explained, Intrade's market for Saddam Hussein's capture began to move two days before he was actually seized. Economist Justin Wolfers, now at the University of Michigan, was trying to devise a method to predict the reaction to war within financial markets.
He examined the site's trading patterns and was excited by what he found. He became one of Intrade's most vocal boosters within academia, and used its data to conduct important research on prediction market theory. During the election campaign, Intrade vastly outperformed the infamously faulty polling, showing a consistent lead for George Bush and picking every state correctly on the day before the election. For prediction market theorists, the result was precious proof of concept. Their scholarly enthusiasm pointed the way to a potential new business model.
The company phased out sports betting, and Delaney declared that "hedging political risk is the next frontier in asset management. Eventually, LeBaron became Intrade's largest single shareholder. The U. In , the federal Commodities Futures Trade Commission brought an action against Intrade for soliciting predictions on financial questions like the future price of gold.
The company paid a fine. The following year, Congress passed a law further restricting offshore gambling sites. Delaney had become a regular at American academic conferences, often concluding conversations with the enthusiastic economists with the promise of a future Guinness, but after the feds started locking up gaming website proprietors, he abruptly stopped visiting. In early , Delaney appeared via Skype at a Washington conference co-sponsored by the American Enterprise Institute and the Brookings Institution, apologizing for his absence and joking that, as an Irishman, he preferred to be sitting in bars, not behind bars.
Delaney died on May 21, after coming within 50 yards of the summit of Mount Everest. How good were Intrade's predictions? Though its accuracy varied with its trading volume — the more bets, the more collective wisdom — the site's predictions appear to have consistently beaten individual pollsters. Probably the most exhaustive study of Intrade's performance was conducted by David Rothschild, an economist with Microsoft Research. He looked at 74 statewide races during the campaign season, and found that Intrade yielded probabilities that were more accurate than polls, and was particularly good at picking the winner early and in close races.
Rothschild found that Intrade was roughly as accurate as the vaunted algorithmic model that Nate Silver used to make predictions on his personal website, FiveThirtyEight , which he later took to the New York Times. But the two systems arrived at their accurate forecasts by different routes. Silver's formula was complex, but it fundamentally relied on opinion polls, which typically ask voters which candidate they prefer. Prediction markets were designed to elicit a potentially more revealing opinion: Who is going to win?
Although economists disagree about the effect of monetary stakes, they agree that a competitive marketplace — whether over cash, prestige, or the pleasure of saying, "I told you so" — will typically yield more accurate assessments than passive statements of individual preference. At the most elemental level, Intrade was a useful tool to test one of the most important questions in economics, how markets absorb information. Prediction market proponents argued that, in addition to providing a gauge of the betting public's sentiment, Intrade also served a second function: what Wolfers calls "information discovery.
That was why many political journalists watched the site's twitches. A former Intrade employee told me that, from IP addresses, it was clear that many election season visitors were U. The day before Mitt Romney made his own vice presidential pick, Paul Ryan's price mysteriously surged, leading traders to presume a leak. Intrade's management winked at suggestions of insider trading. Intrade's message boards were always full of accusations of manipulation, which some took as a perverse sort of endorsement.
In the heat of the political moment, though, it was often hard to sort the speculators with an edge from the ideologues. In , there was a deep-pocketed trader who bet a bundle on John Kerry, sparking outrage among conservative bloggers, who inevitably accused George Soros. The company would usually contact traders in such situations. By contrast, the market rewarded those who acted quickly on solid information. Ken Fitzpatrick, a former professional poker player who lives in Las Vegas, is proudest of a score he made through intrepid reporting.
In , as John McCain prepared to announce his running mate, Fitzpatrick and his fellow trader Joe Schilling were monitoring the movements of all the contenders, calling their press secretaries and checking a flight-tracking website. Laurence Lau credits his biggest single profit during the season to his swift reaction to a friend's outraged post on Facebook.
It related that Missouri Republican Senate candidate Todd Aikin had claimed that victims of "legitimate rape" seldom become pregnant. By moving quickly, Lau was able to buy McCaskill futures cheap. Not long afterward, he was able to use the strategy again, after Richard Mourdock, a Republican candidate in Indiana, said something similarly offensive about rape.
Intrade's prices reflected the impact of these news events faster than any poll could; this is what the academics meant by "information discovery. In , a group of 22 academics called for loosened regulations in an open letter to Science , describing a "virtually limitless" range of applications for government policy, business and public health. Four Nobel laureates were among the signatories, including economics co-winner Robert Shiller.
Yet the reform effort went nowhere. Over time, federal authorities curtailed Intrade's ability to use PayPal and other financial mechanisms, forcing U. For a company that was geared toward American consumers, the restrictions were stifling. For all the press attention the company managed to attract, Intrade always scuffled financially, barely sustaining a small staff.
But the presidential campaigns were a bonanza that only occurred every four years, and in between the political markets went through long periods of dormancy. Even at the height of the presidential races, Intrade's volume was puny by financial industry standards, and undercard races were often lightly traded, which contributed to the exchange's price volatility. Even some of Intrade's investors were incredulous about the company's grandiose claims of predictive powers. In retrospect, it's easy to say the economists should have recognized that an offshore betting website with a proprietor who joked about ending up in an orange jumpsuit was flirting with disaster.
But the prediction experts never saw it coming. Intrade's downfall began at the top of Mount Everest. In , John Delaney, an avid climber in his early forties, died about a hundred feet short of short of the summit. He left a wife and three children, including a daughter born just three days before. His body remained on the mountain, making a funeral impossible, so the family held a memorial service, which some of Intrade's investors attended.
A question hung over the tragic affair: How could the master of probabilities have taken the ultimate risk? Intrade's shareholders brought in new management. Irish courts were pursuing Delaney over personal debts, including unpaid bank loans and cell phone bills, and he had incorporated a number of mysterious companies, including one named after Everest's height, " Approx Limited.
An internal audit found Delaney had redirected millions of dollars to accounts he personally controlled. Delaney had been battling an undisclosed illness that left him alarmingly thin. A mountaineering friend of Delaney's dismissed that interpretation, though, questioning Abramov's preparations.
One risk Delaney took was continuing to defy U. Intrade's investors had always wanted to move the company out of the gray market: At one point they came close to selling to MF Global, then a respected trading firm, and later they negotiated a merger with a commodities exchange in Minneapolis. But Delaney scuttled the deals, which would have exposed Intrade's books to scrutiny.
Instead, he had reintroduced the sort of financial contracts that the company had promised to give up in its prior settlement with the CFTC. To some, it looked like Intrade was thumbing his nose at the authorities. After Delaney's dubious machinations were discovered, Intrade went through a protracted behind-the-scenes drama, which culminated in co-founder Ron Bernstein's return as chief executive. The new regime now portrays the dead CEO as a rogue operator who took advantage of a lack of oversight from the company's absentee investors.
But Delaney's behavior notwithstanding, there was little question that the exchange itself operated, at best, on the furthest fringes of legality. The Dodd-Frank financial reform, signed by President Obama in , specifically bans futures related to terrorism, assassination, gaming, or anything "contrary to the public interest," and in the agency advised a Chicago firm that covers elections. Though a CFTC spokesman declined requests for comment about Intrade, Michael Gorham, a former agency official who now teaches at the Illinois Institute of Technology, told me he looked in vain for a way to legalize such exchanges when he headed the agency's market oversight division.
The case against election betting isn't merely moralistic. Since the 19th century, lawmakers have consistently worried about the corrupting effects of attaching explicit monetary stakes to political decisions. Strumpf says his historical research shows that "the record is rife with accusations that parties tried to boost their candidates" through betting market manipulation. He found little evidence that such ploys had any sustained effect on public opinion.
But by making a market for political information, Intrade did create a potential temptation for insiders. After all, someone made a bundle on that Paul Ryan bet. During the final days of the election season, Intrade's message boards were abuzz about an anonymous trader who came to be known as the "Romney Whale.
The markets also consistently underrated Pete Buttigieg, giving him only an 8 percent chance of winning the most state delegate equivalents in Iowa. This is, frankly, a weird prediction. Failing to compete in the early states has never worked for a candidate before. The model makes it perfectly clear that Bloomberg has a real shot.
His chances have risen recently as his spending blitz drove a rise in the national polls. But he is much less likely to win than Sanders, as you might expect given that Sanders is leading in national polls, leading in state polls, and has won the popular vote in the states that have voted so far. Do note that this is based on a FiveThirtyEight model estimating who will get a plurality of pledged delegates.
Bloomberg could fail to have a plurality but win a brokered convention, making his overall odds higher than the 15 percent given here. It remains to be seen who will be right, of course. But the available evidence is more in line with the FiveThirtyEight model — where Bloomberg is a possibility but not the frontrunner — than the model the betting markets seem to prefer, where Bloomberg is much more likely to be the Democratic nominee.
Prediction markets are driven by supply and demand. The hope is usually that the good predictions will increase good publicity and eventually be a self-fulfilling prophecy — that all of us will see that Bloomberg is the frontrunner according to Betfair and start treating him as one. At the time, the leading presidential prediction market was a site called Intrade, and it consistently overrated Mitt Romney, who lost in a landslide. People try to do this on the stock market, too. But they mostly fail because stock markets are big and heavily traded.
By comparison, prediction markets are small and not very lucrative. High fees make it a waste of time to bet on some contracts, especially ones for unlikely outcomes. Your money is sometimes tied up in the market until the contract is resolved, which can take years. Betfair is closed to Americans due to US gambling laws, and PredictIt which is a university research project and thus has an exemption from normal gambling law is closed to non-Americans, and PredictIt sharply limits how much you can bet.
Usually, the hobbyists are enough — prediction markets actually do pretty well! First, so much money moves through the stock market that lots of people are paid to buy and sell stocks as a full-time job. Some of them have access to billions of dollars themselves, so I will have a very hard time throwing enough money in to swamp them all. Second, there are low fees associated with trading stocks.
I can buy and sell lots of Google stock with only some minor fees at least as a share of the size of the trade associated with doing so. This makes repeatedly trading less worthwhile. Third, most stock trading is public, so if I bought billions of dollars of Google stock, people could notice that I had personally bought billions of dollars of Google stock. Finally, some forms of market manipulation in the stock market are heavily regulated. A move in this direction would require Congress or regulators to loosen up the rules — but they could still regulate the markets, just with an eye toward preventing scams rather than preventing all betting.
A step in any of these directions would make the prediction markets harder to manipulate as well as a better use of time and energy. They would probably also be more accurate. This is a goal worth pursuing. Correctly done prediction markets can improve policymaking, and bad ones can be an avenue for misinformation. We ought to think about how to get it right. Future Perfect is funded in part by individual contributions, grants, and sponsorships.
Learn more here. Support Vox's explanatory journalism. Only the bets which do not exceed the original deposit amount will be included in the turnover requirements. With a second impeachment trial of former President Donald Trump looming next week as a backdrop, there was no movement this past week in either the GOP nominee odds or the Presidential odds.
Florida Gov. They are the top two when it comes to the GOP nominee odds and Trump remains top dog in the party. Tied for top choice is a Trump-Josh Hawley ticket. Images of him, with raised fist, saluting the protestors who later attacked Congress will likely follow him through the cycle if not beyond. A father-daughter ticket of Trump and Ivanka? One thing we learned from the ups and downs of the tracker is how quickly fortunes can change. We also know that is an eternity away when it comes to the political landscape.
The ex-President, largely silent without his Twitter account, continues to cast a long shadow over the party. But, according to recent polling, it takes more than the Trump name to rule the roost. In a poll of who voters favor in a Republican primary without Trump, Pence carried the day. A reminder: Political betting is not legal in the United States, but it is over in Europe. Note: Now that we have a new president, our daily Presidential Odds Tracker switches over to a weekly tracker — at least until the campaign heats up.
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|Intrade presidential betting polls||And if you thought it was wrong, you could just bet against it — moving the price and making money if you were right. By comparison, prediction markets are small and not very lucrative. Second, there are low fees associated with trading stocks. Thank you for signing up! Next Up In Future Perfect. Every day at Vox, we aim to answer your most important questions and provide you, and our audience around the world, with information that empowers you through understanding. In a poll of who voters favor in a Republican primary without Trump, Pence carried the day.|
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|Intrade presidential betting polls||By Theodore Schleifer. One thing we learned from the ups and downs of six nations 2021 betting tracker is how quickly fortunes can change. Intrade presidential betting polls note that this is based on a FiveThirtyEight model estimating who will get a plurality of pledged delegates. The hope is usually that the good predictions will increase good publicity and eventually be a self-fulfilling prophecy — that all of us will see that Bloomberg is the frontrunner according to Betfair and start treating him as one. In a poll of who voters favor in a Republican primary without Trump, Pence carried the day. By Michael Kates Feb 5th, 5 mins.|
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