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FantasySCOTUS Featured on Yahoo News

Liz Goodwin writes for Yahoo News about how FantasySCOTUS.net “might be the most accurate bet” to predict the outcome of the health care cases:

That’s why true legal nerds have a prediction market all their own, called FantasySCOTUS, where players earn points and bragging rights, not money, when they correctly forecast the Supreme Court’s decisions. It’s a Fantasy League for the legal set. In 2009, the most active FantasySCOTUS players predicted 75 percent of that year’s 81 cases correctly, according to a paper written by the site’s founders. (The Harlan Institute, a non-profit that aims to educate high school students about the Constitution, created FantasySCOTUS in 2009.)

The site’s founders say that FantasySCOTUS is more reliable for predicting Supreme Court rulings than Intrade because people who bet on Intrade tend to be political junkies, while those who place wagers on FantasySCOTUS are actual court-watchers, even though they don’t necessarily all have law degrees.

Of the top-ranked players on FantasySCOTUS, 55 percent currently predict that the individual mandate will be upheld. But looking at all the players on the site together reveals a split of 52-48 with a slight majority calculating the mandate will fall. Unfortunately, we can’t rely on the site’s “chief justice,” the nickname for the top-ranked player, because he hasn’t yet wagered on the individual mandate.

So why the split decisions between FantasySCOTUS and Intrade?

Corey Carpenter, a third-year law student at George Mason University and an analyst for the Harlan Institute, tells Yahoo News that after oral arguments started, and pundits began warning that the justices seemed unconvinced by the government’s argument, the odds that the Court would strike down the mandate shot up quickly on Intrade, from 47 to 61 percent. Perhaps the betting public had just watched New Yorker writer Jeffrey Toobin emerge from the courthouse and tell CNN that the arguments had been a “train wreck” for the Obama administration.

But these statements and fluctuations of opinions probably had less influence on FantasySCOTUS players, since many participants read the briefs and make their own decisions, instead of relying on media reports. Before oral arguments, FantasySCOTUS players were split 50-50 on whether the mandate would fall. After the third day, the odds rose slightly for a rejection of the mandate, to 52 percent.

“We have a core of dedicated users that take it very seriously,” Carpenter said. About 220 users voted on the individual mandate out of the roughly 12,000 players on the site.

Ten years ago, people eager to learn the outcome of court cases didn’t have to rely on the futures markets to predict Supreme Court cases. They had another tool: a computer program that used decision trees and information about the justices’ voting records to forecast rulings. In 2002, this program, called the Supreme Court Forecasting Project, predicted 75 percent of cases correctly, while a panel of Supreme Court experts accurately predicted less than 60 percent, according to an article in the Columbia Law Review. However, the program stopped working so well when a slew of justices retired, since it relied on plugging in judges’ past decision into the program. For today, FantasySCOTUS just might be the most accurate bet.



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