Degens: The Ethereum Betting Exchange
If you’ve been following this blog, you know we’ve been working hard on our new protocol. Thanks to a generous grant from MakerDAO, our new site is now live and ready for beta testing! More on that below, but first we’d like to take a quick look back at the history of our project.
Little known fact: In 2011–2012 we built a system called SportCoin. It had several of what we consider the fundamental features of crypto betting exchanges. Users could bet with cryptocurrency, post their own odds, earn and withdraw realized profits before games even started, and trade conveniently from a web interface.
However, SportCoin had one enormous flaw: It was entirely centralized. Users would have to send us bitcoin, which we would store in our wallet. When a user would like to withdraw, they’d just have to trust that we were securely holding their funds and would honestly fulfil their request.
Really SportCoin was no better than incumbent exchanges like BetFair, except for the fact that users could use Bitcoin instead of fiat currency. This was an incremental improvement over the status quo, but not a categorical leap of any sort. Because of this we didn’t have much enthusiasm for the project and stopped work on SportCoin sometime mid-2012.
After Ethereum launched, we realized that it is the solution to many of the problems we saw in SportCoin. Rather than us being responsible for holding our users’ funds, this could be handled by a special program known as a “smart contract”. With a smart contract, even if we wanted to we would be unable to steal user funds held in balance.
The mental model we like to use for smart contracts is to consider our database open and publicly accessible. Unlike centralized systems where access to the database must be diligently guarded, decentralized applications (“dapps”) turn this model inside-out. The database is accessible to everyone because it lives on a shared infrastructure known as the blockchain. Furthermore, users can interact with the database on their own terms, using their own software if they so prefer.
This is a categorically new way of building systems and requires re-thinking many assumptions. For example, the entire concept of having accounts with passwords and recovery emails goes away, which greatly improves privacy (something often important for sports bettors). Similarly, because we aren’t accepting customer funds, it is no longer necessary to collect payment information or deal with chargebacks, fund transfer delays, payment processor freezes, compliance requirements, or the many other pitfalls of handling money.
When we launched SportCrypt in 2017, we weren’t sure if anyone was going to use it. We had a clunky user interface, the way we handled data flow was slow and inefficient, and we had next to no tools for market makers, white-labels, arbitrageurs, or pro-users.
But what happened exceeded our expectations. We’ve had millions of dollars worth of ETH traded, and have a growing set of users, many of whom really like the product. To all of you reading: THANK YOU! Your encouragement and feedback has kept us moving forward.
We’ve learned a lot from building SportCrypt. First of all, the brand name isn’t ideal. Often it’s mis-typed as SportsCrypt or SportCrypto. What’s worse, there are tons of other sites named some combination of the words “Sports”, “Crypto”, and “Bet”.
To help differentiate ourselves, we decided to create a new brand: Degens. This is a humorously self-deprecating term (short for “degenerates”) that originated in the poker and sports betting communities, and we feel it is a unique, fresh and fun name that will help our product stand out.
Our new brand also comes with a fun new mascot! Say hello to Fat Tony:
- Users can now bet with DAI, the leading stable-coin asset
- Our smart contract has been audited by Quantstamp, a highly respected blockchain security firm
- We’ve developed a “mesh” protocol that allows us to distribute the orderbook across many nodes around the world
- We’ve upgraded our servers and are distributing their locations geographically for better performance for our global user-base
- Mobile-first: Our website has been reconfigured to provide first-class support to mobile browsers such as Trust Wallet and MetaMask Mobile
- Language translations: Our interface will soon be translated into several languages so we can be accessible to a wider audience
- New market making tools are in the works which will make it much easier to run market making businesses on top of the protocol
Big thank you to MakerDAO for your support. It has been a pleasure and privilege to be working with you guys!
Timeline for 2019
- Oct 1st (today): degens.com is live on mainnet! Adventurous users can give it a try right now. Please report any bugs or other suggestions, and excuse us while we iron out the issues that will inevitably come up.
- Oct 15th: We will release the source code for “bookie-kit”, a program for market making on top of the degens protocol. It will include a base class and examples for connecting to odds providers, adding/reducing mark-ups, and posting your own orders to the degens network. In addition there is also a web interface that makers can use to control and monitor their books.
- Nov 1st: We will release the code for “degens mesh”. This will allow anyone to mirror the orderbook for improved latency, archival purposes, or to participate in the network in other ways. For instance, arbitrage bot operators and matching-mode relayers will likely choose to run their own specially-configured nodes.
- Supply-side: In order to create a vibrant market, there needs to be liquidity. This is where bookie-kit comes in. With it, users can run bookmaking businesses on top of the degens protocol. They can either take advantage of the open-source plug-ins we provide or, if they are technically inclined, develop their own proprietary rate-source connectors and/or trading algorithms.
- Distribution: The degens mesh software will allow low-risk business models to be built on top of the protocol. These can be based on arbitrage, or by implementing various provider strategies described in our protocol documentation. In addition to improving market efficiency, this will help to decentralize and strengthen the network.
- Demand-side: The degens.com web interface should be familiar to anybody who has used betting exchanges such as BetFair or Matchbook. However, not everybody will be comfortable with such a design. With our whitelabel-kit, entrepreneurs will be able to focus on building great front-end interfaces and tap into the degens protocol as a liquidity source to collect risk-free profits by atomically hedging user orders.