Congress holds a hearing today on plans to create a trading market that would allow people to basically place bets on how Hollywood movies will perform at the box office. What - you didn't know that was legal?
Yes, even as many state and local governments have fights about whether to expand casino gambling, legalized buying of "futures" on Hollywood box office numbers has been given the green light by the federal government.
The Commodity Futures Trading Commission has approved two different applications this year where investors could buy futures on the amount of money a movie would bring in during its first month in theaters.
If the plans get final approval, you could buy a contract that predicts one blockbuster will make more cash than another in theaters.
It's not much different from contracts that cover where the price of other commodities will end up.
These contracts are maybe more commonly known as "derivatives", which have been blamed for much of the financial chaos that hit Wall Street in the Fall of 2008.
One company would open these bets only to institutional investors, while the other wants to allow retail investors to be able to buy the futures contracts.
One thing that has consistently amazed me about the financial industry is that while most people think of it as just a place to buy stocks and bonds, there are all kinds of other investments that are available, most of which the average American has no idea even exist.
I found one group on the internet that is trying to get approval from the feds to trade in "sports based financial instruments" - they call it the Sports Risk Index.
It says they are "dedicated to developing and marketing sports-focused financial instruments and tools to be traded on the global regulated financial markets."
If you could bet on which movie makes the most money, why not place bets - err, I mean, futures contracts - on something related to sports?
Have you ever played craps? That may be the best way to explain this.
On the craps table, there are all kinds of side bets that are available, and really, those aren't very far removed from the different options on derivative contracts that can be exercised in the financial markets.
One good example are what's known as "collateralized debt obligations" and "synthetic CDO's", all of which became a multi-trillion dollar market - with almost zero regulation by any governing body.
Last week, President Obama threatened to veto any Wall Street Reform bill that did not include significant new regulations on derivatives, which some critics say are nothing more than financial bets.
The details are difficult to understand. No wonder it's been easier for elected officials to focus on the issue of casinos in the heartland rather than what some say are the casinos in the financial industry.
But betting on movies is the latest invention? Really?
Get me to the craps table, and fast.
Congress holds a hearing today on plans to create a trading market that would allow people to basically place bets on how Hollywood movies will perform at the box office. What - you didn't know that was legal? Yes, even as many state and local governments have fights about whether ...