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News that crypto gamblers were placing bets on the website Polymarket on whether the lost Titan submersible would be found has caused outrage on social media.
Polymarket users had wagered more than $220k on whether or not the sub would be found in time, as first reported by Gizmodo on Thursday afternoon.
Polymarket is a prediction site on the Ethereum blockchain that enables users to buy and trade “shares” in the outcomes of future events. Once the market has been resolved, users can cash in their shares for $1 each.
Around 62% took a pessimistic view of the crew’s chances of survival.
“For the purposes of this market, the vessel need not have been rescued or physically recovered to be considered ‘found,’” the market description page explains. “If pieces are located, but not the cabin which contains the vessel’s passengers, that will not suffice for this market to resolve to ‘Yes.’”
As news of the market spread on Twitter, Polymarket appeared to revel in the publicity, piggybacking on the viral wave of revulsion to remind Twitter users that there was “only a 15% chance the missing submarine is found by Friday.”
In a tone-deaf response to Gizmodo’s request for comment, a spokesperson for the site suggested that the market could provide a valuable service for the families of the crew.
“If the families were privy to Polymarket, they could use the market as a way to obtain the real-time, unbiased probability of the submarine being recovered,” Polymarket said in an email after this article was published. “That is a far more valuable service to them than sensationalist media coverage: with our markets, at least they understand the true probabilities.”
The regulated betting industry doesn’t engage in “death pool”-type betting, even though in markets like the UK, where quirky proposition and political betting are permitted, no specific regulations prevent them from doing so.
But bad-taste betting can be bad for business. In November 2009, Irish sportsbook PaddyPower offered odds that then-President-elect Barack Obama would not complete his first term in office. The implication was that he might be assassinated.
Paddy Power was forced to pull the odds following a public backlash.
The five crew members on board the OceanGate Titan submersible were probably killed instantly by a “catastrophic implosion,” the US Coast Guard said Thursday. The announcement signaled a tragic end to a frantic four-day international mission to locate the sub and rescue the crew before oxygen levels ran out.
The vessel went missing on Sunday at around 9:45 a.m. ET, an hour and 45 minutes into its dive to examine the wreck of the Titanic, when it lost contact with its support ship, the Polar Prince. It had 96 hours of oxygen on board, meaning its supply of fresh air would theoretically run out on Thursday morning. Fragments of the sub were discovered Thursday.
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