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New site has users wager on news stories

Nigel Eccles, a news junkie and former online betting site employee, wanted to try pursuing both interests at once.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Nigel Eccles, a news junkie and former online betting site employee, wanted to try pursuing both interests at once.

Thus was born Hubdub — a new Web site Eccles and three colleagues in Edinburgh, Scotland, assembled — where customers will bet for fun, not money, on the outcomes of real news stories.

The site launches Monday as an influential technology conference gets under way in Palm Desert, Calif. — where Eccles plans to try drumming up support from investors.

Here's how it will work. After signing up, you'll receive 1,000 "Hubdub dollars," play money that works only on the site. You can look at stories about, say, whether Gregg Williams will be named the next head coach of the Washington Redskins or who will win the Florida Republican primary.

Guess right, and you'll win more Hubdub dollars. Lose, and your account will draw down. In the spirit of the board game Monopoly, where simply sticking it out is rewarded, you'll also get 20 new Hubdub dollars ever day you log in.

Eccles figures most people who like to bet on events are more interested in the bragging rights of being right than in actually winning money. He lured in his three partners — Tom Griffiths, Chris Stafford and Rob Jones — from another startup called Groopit, a social networking site launched last year in Edinburgh.

Eccles, who has worked on business strategy at Johnston Press, a major regional newspaper publisher in the U.K., said he saw how exciting sports betting could be when he worked at Flutter, a European online betting exchange that was sold to Betfair, an Internet wagering site.

The problem was, he didn't enjoy following sports.

"I do, however, follow technology and politics," Eccles said in a phone interview. "Sometimes I'll read an article and think, 'Hey, that's totally wrong.'"

And he often wondered how news stories about pending events turned out in the end.

Eccles says Hubdub may adopt a business model like that of a fantasy sports league, where participants pay a fee to join and win rewards at the end of a certain period of time based on overall performance in the league.

He said he has seed money, but the project is clearly in an early phase.

As in a fantasy league, Hubdub users who make the most successful predictions will be rewarded with being listed on a board of stars.

Despite its base in Scotland, Hubdub is focused squarely on the U.S. market, Eccles said. And, to comply with U.S. betting rules, no money bets can be placed through Hubdub.

Eccles said the inspiration came from his personal experience with a poorly performing stock portfolio. He found he was constantly checking it online, in anguish.

"What I realized was it wasn't the fact that I had lost money, but my pride and feeling of self-worth had taken a real knock," Eccles said. "I think that's the case for a lot of people — it's not so much the cash, it's being right."