This New Deep Web Site Is Already Taking Bets on the 2016 US Election
But can you trust a deep web site with your bitcoins?
The PolitiBet site
Bitcoin is great for gambling. The digital currency can be transferred quickly and for free, and more importantly this can be done with at least some degree of anonymity. That makes it an attractive prospect for anyone who might live in a country where betting is illegal but still wants to get their gambling fix.
A new deep web site is trying to marry this with the upcoming US election, or at least fool people into handing over their bitcoins in what could be a quick money-making scam. Although other gambling sites do exist, this is one of the few that is taking bets on events in the physical world, rather than just trying your odds against an algorithm or random number generator.
"PolitiBet: Bitcoin Betting on the 2016 Election" is a site running on the hidden service model. This means that users need to download Tor before they can access it, masking their location and that of the site's operators.
There are nine Democrat candidates listed and 20 Republicans, each with a Bitcoin address (where a bet is presumably sent), and the odds of them winning, according to PolitiBet. For example, there's Hillary Rodham Clinton, with a payout of 3.0:1, and the slightly less likely Bobby Jindal, whose odds are at 3447.98:1. Others include Joe Biden, Jeb Bush, and even Donald Trump. A short biography about each candidate gives basic details on their background. Nothing is included about their perspective on Bitcoin.
Apart from that, the page is a bare bones affair. No contact details. No further information on how any players would receive their winnings. For this reason, I get the impression that it's a work in progress, although I could be wrong and it may just be an attempt at piffling some bitcoins from naive deep web users. Indeed, sites offering paid services come and go on the deep web, and some vanish along with their customers' cash. Regardless, at the time of writing none of the listed Bitcoin addresses had received any funds.
This is far from the first deep web site purporting to pay out large sums to lucky Bitcoin users. "Hidden BetCoin" has been running since at least 2013, and offers a traditional lottery type system. When you send them a bet, if certain numbers in the transaction ID either match or are different, they will apparently pay you winnings equivalent to around 95 percent of your bet. The site claims to have given out 843.75 BTC in total, which is around $185,000 at today's exchange rates.
However, there's also a near-identical site on a different URL, which is likely a copycat attempting to steal peoples' coins. These clone sites are a common scam tactic on the deep web. In fact, the FBI's and Interpol's recent Operation Onymous, which targeted a series of drug, weapon and other markets, ended up instead shutting down a clone site of a jihadi funding service, leaving the original standing. With this being the deep web, where contact with site owners isn't an easy process, it can be difficult to determine which of the gambling sites is the original.
Another deep web site is "Top US Sports Picks," which allows betting on professional and college level basketball, football, and baseball. Hundreds of other Bitcoin gambling sites exist on the surface web, with slots, dice, and other casino games available.
With online gambling in general, there may always be the worry that the system taking your money is fixed, with close to no chance of winning. But this lack of trust is exacerbated on the deep web, a space filled with scams, hacks, and thefts, where site owners can easily disappear whenever they have a nice stockpile of customers' coins.
Perhaps that's why there are relatively few of these sites on the deep web compared to the surface web. I wouldn't be so quick to bet my coins.