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August 1, 2003

by Bill Hogan


When I first read that the Pentagon was planning to establish a Terrorism Futures Market, I thought it was some sort of joke. A hoax, perhaps. There's no way the government would ever consider getting into the Gaming business. Right?

Wrong. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) was dead serious about establishing a futures market that would enable potential "traders" to wager on the outcome of future world events – assassinations and terrorist attacks in the Middle East to be exact.


The idea was to utilize the "market" to gather intelligence and monitor terrorist activities. But many public officials were shocked and outraged. According to foxnews.com, Oregon Senator Ron Wyden called the plan "a federal betting parlor on atrocities and terrorism." Another Senator labeled it "unbelievably stupid." DARPA quickly scrapped the plan.

Both the plan itself and the ensuing fallout was a source of great amusement to me. On the one hand, it seemed ludicrous – and a bit morbid. On the other hand, it may not have been such a far fetched idea.

People gamble on commodity futures every day. Putting their money into everything from pork bellies to canola oil. If it's acceptable to wager on the rise and fall of the price of butter and orange juice, why not the fall of Liberian President Charles Taylor?

You can win money by correctly predicting the winner of Big Brother 4, whether Hillary will run for President in '04 and the guilt or innocence of Kobe Bryant. Even the Security Alert Level for the month of August is open to traders.

Is trying to predict where, when and how Yasser Arafat will meet his demise any more outrageous than putting a few bucks down on the Cincinnati Bengals to win the Super Bowl? One event is inevitable; the other would take a miracle – where would you rather have your money?

In Las Vegas, you can pay $10,000 for the "privilege" of shooting naked women with a paint ball gun. (No kidding.) There was some publicized opposition, but as far as I know, the owner is still sending bare-bottomed babes into the desert to fend off armed assailants. "Hunting Bambi" isn't any less absurd and distasteful than wagering on whether or not they'll find Weapons of Mass Destruction.

When, according to a report on foxnews.com, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz told outraged Senators "I share your shock at this kind of program," was he speaking of the Terrorism Futures Market or the Florida State Football team?

Betting is a way of life in America. The proposition, not necessity, is the mother of invention. "Bet you can't build a machine that's faster than the horse and buggy." So why does this idea "shock" so many?

In the Sports Futures Market – also known as the Sports Book, it would not be shocking to find propositions predicting the first NFL head coach to be fired this season, the first quarterback sidelined with an injury or the first player suspended for violating the league's drug policy.

So why not a government-run market to predict the downfall of terrorist leaders? I'd show a lot more compassion for Brett Favre going down for the season with a broken leg than I would if Saddam Hussein turns up dead in an abandoned oil field. Wouldn't you?

If someone as squeaky clean as Kobe Bryant once was can find himself in the trouble he's in now; if they can broadcast "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy" on television; if Jerry Springer can run for the U.S. Senate; then it shouldn't be so repugnant that I celebrate the death of a murderous tyrant and make a couple of bucks in the process.

If you think about it, I bet you'll agree with me. And I wouldn't be surprised if the now-defunct Terrorism Futures Market spawns a bevy of internet and office pools - move over NCAA Basketball Tournament. Name the time and place Saddam takes one between the eyes. Winner takes all.

But seriously, folks. People are getting rich off soybeans, hog lean and cocoa. Somebody's going to win a bundle on the World Series – someone else on the Super Bowl. If a guy in Iowa became the latest Joe Millionaire the day they pull Osama out of the rubble in Afghanistan, I wouldn't lose any sleep over it.



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