The Dark Side of Blockchain: Creepy Wagers on Augur

Nuno Teodoro

Augur, one of the first blockchain-based prediction marketplaces, features some of the weirdest and most outrageous betting events in the world. Celebrity and presidential deaths, mass shootings, terrorism, and viral outbreaks are just some of the examples of the kind of topics being wagered on Augur.

Unlike most betting platforms that have pre-determined markets, Augur’s decentralized nature allows any user to create a prediction market. Defined as “a prediction market protocol owned and operated by the people that use it”, Augur was built on the Ethereum blockchain and uses smart contracts and oracles to ensure transparent and affordable betting.

How Creepy is Augur?

“Will Augur be hacked?” was the first market to open and it’s a perfect example of the unmoderated freedom the platform is able to offer. The vast majority of wages are relatively unremarkable , with sporting events and the price of cryptocurrencies being the usual topics. Onthe surface, everything seems normal, but there is a rather weird and dark aspect to Augur.

Described as “a hilarious place to troll” by Coindesk, some markets are as outrageous as they are funny. Wagers on the existence of God (“Does God exist?”), the love life of Ethereum’s creator (“Will Vitalik Buterin have a girlfriend by the end of 2018?”), or if John McAfee will keep his promise if bitcoin doesn’t reach $1,000,000 by 2020are good examples of what’s happening on Augur.

Other wagers, however, hit upon more sensitive matters, such as school shootings or the assassination of celebrities like Donald Trump, Jeff Bezos, or Warren Buffett. This kind of betting is basically an “assassination market”, as it creates a monetary incentive to kill a person. Cryptoanarchist Jim Bell introduced the concept in “Assassination Politics”, stating that the anonymity afforded by modern encryption together with the arrival of digital money could incentivize political assassinations and allow them to be arranged anonymously.

Fortunately, with roughly 40 daily users and 260 ether (ETH) daily trading volume, the platform doesn’t yet offer a big enough incentive for political assassination to actually be arranged..

The Future for Augur

Augur had its ICO back in 2015, before the term ICO was even popular, and after being in open beta for two years - the mainnet was launched in July. The long wait was due to the complexity and scale of Augur. One of the representatives of the Forecast Foundation, the entity founded to develop and support Augur, reported:

We'll probably be the largest and most complex application to be attempted to be deployed on ethereum. (...) Once Augur is live on the mainnet, the full release, we have no more control over Augur than anyone else does

It is difficult to predict the extent of the impact Augur will have on the world. The possibility to bet on anything, without restrictions or moderation, opens the door to a large number of possibilities. It can work like insurance, making it possible to hedge against unfavorable events, or can it act as an assassination marketplace. Only time will tell if and, perhaps more importantly, how Augur will flourish.