In July, to what was underwhelming fanfare, a revolutionary new betting platform was sent live. Three years in the making, and requiring a full download of the entire history of the Ethereum blockchain, Augur is likely the world’s first decentralised betting platform.
It may be worth, at this stage, just posing a reminder of what is meant by decentralised and what the implications of this observation are.
Simply put, with Augur no-one is in charge. As a blockchain-based application that now piggy-backs the world’s largest Dapp hosting platform – Ethereum – Augur now exists and, as long as there are people who want to make use of it, there is little that anyone can do to change that.
Who, you wonder, may want to wish Augur out of existence? The answer to that question likely constitutes a very long list.
Firstly, there are governments – not least practically every state government of the United States, each of which limits to varying degrees gambling activity.
Whilst some may outlaw casino houses and others gambling websites, they will all now find that the blockchain has brought into existence a technology which facilitates the creation of and participation in anonymous gambling markets. And this same technology now ensures that – unlike a casino or a website – these markets cannot be removed with a simple legal injunction.
In the first place, there is simply no-one specifically to aim the injunction at. Secondly, even if there was, there is no means by which it could be enforced. The US government is not in a position to go off and identify each and every node of the Ethereum blockchain and shut it down. And should it attempt to do so, it would quickly find that a whole lot more would sprout up in defiance.
So, whether governments like it or not, anyone anywhere with an internet connection can now bet – and do so anonymously. Players can also create their own markets – effectively becoming their own bookmakers.
Whilst that’s a nice attraction for some, perhaps, it also should also be noted that whatever markets are submitted to Augur by its users are not curated. And some of those markets which have been emerging since Augur’s release have been attracting attention for all the wrong reasons.
What should be noted is that any market created by an Augur user requires that user to commit capital to the platform in order to provide initial liquidity.
In other words, Augur has essentially become the perfect platform for anyone that wishes to use it as an assassination order book.
In the Day of the Jackal, Frederick Forsyth’s 1970’s classic novel, we follow the fictional story of how darker elements within the French military collaborated to hire an anonymous assassin to take out General Charles de Gaulle in a bid to reverse Algeria’s move towards independence. Whilst the story told by the book was fictional, it did nonetheless mirror events in real-life.
The group in question, known as the OAS, spends some considerable time and energy in Forsyth’s story seeking out an assassin-for-hire and collecting the funds necessary to pay him. Today, the same chapters covering this aspect of the story would be replaced by a simple submission of some Ether to the Augur platform to create a General De Gaulle assassination market. Upon successful execution of the act, the funds would simply be released to the counter-party who accepts the bet.
There was already a real fear, prior to Augur’s release, that the platform would encourage such behaviour – and barely one week into its existence, several such assassination markets did come into existence for a number of famous personalities we won’t name here. However, the sums involved were relatively small – so the betting markets created were simply that: betting markets.
Nonetheless, we are still at the beginning of the blockchain revolution, and watching where this specific fallout of blockchain tech leads will likely make for one of the more interesting phenomena for us to observe.