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PredictIt Lets Investors Buy And Sell Political Candidate Stock

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

It's usually cliche to say a presidential candidate's stock is rising, but as NPR's Scott Detrow reports, it's a little less cliche now because there's a new online political stock market. He explains how it works.

SCOTT DETROW, BYLINE: It's early on in the Republican debate, and the crowd at a Washington, D.C., bar is loving Donald Trump.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Mr. Trump.

DONALD TRUMP: I never attack him on his look - and believe me, there's plenty of subject matter right there. That, I can tell you.

(APPLAUSE)

DETROW: Everyone except Michael Burleson. He's got money riding on this, and he wagered that Trump would not be the candidate with the most speaking time tonight.

MICHAEL BURLESON: I feel like this was a bad bet. That was a gamble.

DETROW: Before the debate started and before Trump monopolized the opening minutes, Burleson had sounded much more confident.

BURLESON: Everyone, the market, is favoring that he's going to speak the most, and I bet against that. I feel like I could make some good money.

DETROW: Technically, Burleson isn't betting. He's one of thousands of people who bought a position at a website called PredictIt.

JOHN ARISTOTLE PHILLIPS: It's like a stock market, but for politics.

DETROW: John Aristotle Phillips is PredictIt's CEO. His day job is running one of the country's largest political data-gathering operations. PredictIt has been around for a year. It works by posing yes-or-no questions and letting users buy stock in either outcome.

PHILLIPS: So if I decide I want to put 60 cents on the fact that Donald Trump will be the next president of the United States, there's got to be somebody out there who says 40 cents says he won't be. Whichever one of us is right gets the complete dollar.

DETROW: You can buy or sell stock at any time. For example, pick up some shares of Bernie Sanders as the Democratic nominee for 15 cents, and then sell them a month later at 30 cents.

Wait a second - is this legal? Betting on elections isn't. And a similar stock market, called Intrade, shut down a couple years ago after it was sued by the federal government. Phillips solved that problem by getting permission from the agency that regulates these sort of things. One restriction - each trade is limited to $850 maximum.

(APPLAUSE)

DETROW: As the debate goes on - and as Trump keeps talking - Burleson doesn't give up. In fact, he continues buying No shares in the question of whether Trump will get the most speaking time.

BURLESON: Because they're heavily discounted right now.

DETROW: He does admit it might not be the best investment strategy.

BURLESON: And I feel like some of the other guys have been speaking real slowly, so I don't know. I've had a couple beers. My sense of time is heavily diluted right now.

DETROW: Burleson's friend, Christopher Knight - he's doing much better. He bought stock saying Carly Fiorina would get the biggest boost in the post-debate polls, and Fiorina's stock has nearly doubled since the debate began. That's not his only investment.

CHRISTOPHER KNIGHT: I have some shares on Bernie. Even if he doesn't win, I think his support is going to continue to increase for a while. Got some money on the government shutdown. You name it. I'm well-diversified.

DETROW: Still, Knight isn't quite ready to quit his job to focus on the PredictIt market. Scott Detrow, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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