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Federal regulators charge Intrade with illegally allowing bets

WASHINGTON – U.S. regulators on Monday sued Intrade, the online prediction market that gained popularity as an informal oddsmaker for the presidential election, saying it illegally let customers bet on future economic data, the price of gold and even acts of war.

The Commodity Futures Trading Commission said in a complaint in federal court that Intrade and its operator solicited customers to trade investment contracts that technically are options. Options must be traded on approved, regulated exchanges.

“Today’s action should make it clear that we will intervene in the ‘prediction’ markets, wherever they may be based, when their U.S. activities violate” laws and rules enforced by the agency, commission enforcement director David Meister said in a statement.

By requiring that options be traded on approved exchanges, Meister said, regulators can “police market activity and protect market integrity.”

Intrade did not respond to an emailed request for comment.

It was unclear whether regulators believe that all trades on Intrade by U.S. investors are illegal. The commission said it wouldn’t comment further because the matter was in litigation.

Intrade is known for facilitating bets on award shows, weather and other high-profile events. The prices at which customers are willing to make those bets are cited as informal odds. TEN also used to allow betting on sports through other sites that it operated.

For example, on Monday the site gave “Argo,” a movie directed by Ben Affleck, a 28.5 percent chance of winning the Oscar for best picture and assigned a 19 percent chance that the United States or Israel would launch an airstrike against Iran by June 30.

The commission oversees markets for futures and options, investments that allow people to bet on the future prices of commodities like grain and oil. Those contracts help farms, airlines and other businesses protect themselves against unexpected price swings.

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