Gambler with gun
Gambler with gun

The Day of the Jackal, Frederick Forsyth’s 1970’s thriller novel, recounts a failed assassination attempt on the life of Charles de Gaulle during the Algerian War of Independence.

Drawing inspiration from an actual attempt on De Gaulle’s life, the first few chapters of the book outline the efforts that went into the organisation of the assassination itself.

Firstly, there was finding the assassin and, subsequently, there was the financial operation in which the organisers had to find the funds necessary – laundered money – to pay the assassin’s fee, along with the added complexity of getting the money to him.

Today, those first few chapters of Forsyth’s book have essentially become redundant. Augur – a new blockchain-based online betting forum – now offers the ability for players to create and settle their own betting markets. Anonymously.

Predictive Markets Becoming Unregulated

It is this anonymous aspect – where players collect winning payments in crypto-currency – that has some regulators worried.

The platform offers anyone the ability to set up their own books for any kind of market. Smart contracts built into the platform provide the guarantee to both bookmakers and bettors that the other party has the ability to pay up in the event of a favourable outcome. Each party’s funds are tied up by the platform until the bet is settled.

Traditionally, bookmakers need to obtain a licence and demonstrate that they have the necessary capital to back up those markets in the event of extreme losses. All of this has been rendered obsolete by the Augur platform whose blockchain technology ensures that its markets cannot be eliminated by anyone – whether or not there are laws trying to govern such markets.

But whilst regulators may be worried by the implications of Augur’s technology – three years in the making – it is something altogether more sinister that has drawn concern from technology commentators.

Within its first week of release, Augur has already seen the rise of so-called assassination markets. This is where players can either create or participate in betting markets that concern the likelihood of, for example, the current president of the United States being assassinated before he sees out his current term.

Whilst these markets are currently trivial in size, it has not gone unnoticed that the technology can essentially serve an entirely different purpose.

“The blockchain represents the future of gambling for a whole host of reasons,” states Kevin Coelho, CEO of meVu, an Augur competitor. “With a blockchain platform, every participant becomes a potential market maker if they choose to.

With a large enough down payment, an assassination market essentially serves as an incentive for the assassination itself – particularly for relatively easy targets such as celebrities who may not enjoy the same protections as the US president.

The subject has so far received little attention within the wider press – largely because blockchain-based platforms have as yet to experience wider adoption. However, The Independent did run a minor feature on the development in July but the article failed to arouse much wider debate about the brave new world of blockchain-based gambling and its wider implications.