Making Sure Bets On Online Prediction Markets

from the psst-i-have-a-tip dept

Online prediction markets like Intrade have started to make a name for themselves in this year's exciting political arena. By trading futures on political outcomes like the Democratic and Republican presidential nominations, the idea is that the efficiency of the market will ultimately serve as a better predictor of outcome than traditional methods like exit polls. However, as some traders are starting to find, prediction markets still have many inefficiencies in their current state, allowing shrewed traders to make tidy profits as a result. In the Intrade market, a political future is worth $10 if the political outcome occurs, and $0 if it does not occur. Therefore, a $5 market price on a particular future is supposed to correlate with a 50% prediction of that future to occur. However, in practice, certain factors push these prices out of the range of their realistic probability. For example, contracts for Ron Paul's predicted as high as a 9% chance of him being selected as the Republican nominee, when in reality, his chances were probably closer to nil. Perhaps driven by a small cadre of Paul supporters, the Intrade market was able to be swayed by a small number of trades. Even today, Intrade shows Paul at a 1.2% -- which is a great opportunity for someone to make money on taking the short side of that contract. On the Democratic side, Al Gore supporters have put a 1% chance on his head, who never even appeared on the ballot -- wishful thinking indeed. That said, the limited amount of volume on these contracts precludes anyone from actually making a crazy amount of money on them, but it does remind us of an important fact about markets -- while they do tend to come up with the right answer in the long term, in the short term, they are incredibly susceptible to very human factors like optimism and group think.

Filed Under: accuracy, politics, prediction markets

Reader Comments

Subscribe: RSS

View by: Time | Thread

  1. identicon
    toby scammell, 13 Feb 2008 @ 7:49pm

    There are definitely inefficiencies that can be exploited but many of them are mirages. As you would expect, the contracts that seem to be most out of line with conventional thought are those with the least volume. Plenty of contracts are so illiquid that you can't actually trade into them at anywhere near the price of the last trade, which in some cases might have happened days or weeks ago. Most interesting is that there is a pretty consistent lag factor--the intrade market is slow to arrive at conclusions that normal people arrive at. I think part of that has to do with how difficult it is to get money into the system. If there's a contract you really want to buy, it might take you 4 days to transfer the money so you can buy it.

Add Your Comment

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here

Subscribe to the Techdirt Daily newsletter

Comment Options:

  • Use markdown for basic formatting. (HTML is not supported.)
  • Remember name/email/url (set a cookie)

Follow Techdirt
Insider Shop - Show Your Support!

Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Essential Reading
Techdirt Deals
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Techdirt Insider Chat
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Recent Stories
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads


Email This

This feature is only available to registered users. Register or sign in to use it.