Spin for Good

(Photo: benketaro)

(Photo: benketaro)

Americans love to gamble, as evidenced by the ubiquity of lotteries, the growing number of local casinos, and the remarkable success of Las Vegas.

One place Americans can’t legally gamble is online because, except in a few states, the current laws prohibit it.  Right now, the closest legal substitute that exists for Americans is virtual gambling at sites like Zynga, where people pay literally billions of dollars a year in real money to buy tokens that allow them to play virtual slot machines and tables games.  By virtual, I mean that even though the consumers pay real money, they can’t win cash prizes, but rather things like online trophies or more tokens that allow them to play the games longer.

Obviously, people are having a lot of fun doing virtual gambling, as evidenced by how much they spend doing it, both in terms of time and money.

But the time has come to make virtual gambling both a whole lot more fun and a whole lot more meaningful.  How?  Some friends of mine came up with an incredibly simple idea, but one that is so amazingly smart and powerful that I begged them to let me be part of it.

So here is the idea: Instead of paying $1 to Zynga to gamble, you go to a new site called SpinForGood, and for that same $1, you gain entry into a tournament in which you compete against a whole bunch of other players.   At the beginning of the tournament, you pick a charity to be your beneficiary if you do well.  When the tournament ends, the prize money is distributed to the charities of the winners.  Gamers get to have their fun playing their games, their entry fees are tax deductible, they get the extra warm glow of joy that comes with knowing that 80 percent of their entry fee goes to charities, and the better they themselves play, the more goes to their favorite charity.

The only loser:  Zynga’s shareholders.

Check out SpinForGood, and let us know what you think in the comments sections below.  The site has just launched and could benefit so much from your great ideas!

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  1. Ben says:

    What a great idea! I’m attracted to it, and I don’t even like gambling very much (although spend a lot of time playing games online). It’s also a very nice website, very well done.

    A few suggestions:

    1. Provide a way for perhaps anyone, but especially people with winnings to donate, to suggest a charity… and then hold the winnings in escrow for the charity. Just have the winners provide enough information that you can easily contact the charity and say “hey, we have this pot of money for you if you sign up with us…”.

    I don’t think you should provide every single possible charity as an option on your partners page… that would be overwhelming. I just think knowing the main charities your players support would be useful. Like, I would suggest Doctors Without Borders, and maybe plenty of others would as well, and then maybe you should have them as a feature suggested partner.

    The main reason I suggest this is that I think your biggest market for the website will be gamers who already have established donation relationships with at least one charity… so you might as well appeal to them that they can continue with those relationships, instead of having to think about what new charity to donate to.

    2. Provide an option to suggest games… maybe you don’t want to fracture your users too much, but knowing what people are interested in would be helpful.

    3. Also offer games (or options on existing games) which can be played without tournaments, so that people can play as continuously as they wish, or play a program instead of a human (some people I know prefer that). Then, as far as their winnings are concerned, you can just have that be proportional to their relative performance over some period of time, to the other humans who were playing at the time (performance over the course of an hour or a day, say).

    I think this idea will be a big success. I hope it will be, anyway :).

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  2. Baughman says:

    Fascinating idea, but shouldn’t only 80% of the spinforgood contribution be tax deductible, since this is the portion going to charity?

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    • Enter your name... says:

      It’s more complicated than that.

      First off, you can’t deduct if you don’t itemize, so for ~80% of people, that’s irrelevant. Secondly, you can’t usually deduct more than about 50% of your income, which is why non-profit lawyers are so fond of hedging with the phrase “in accordance with the law”.

      Finally, the IRS may take the position that you ought to be deducting the donation minus the fair market value of the goods and services you received in return for your donation, no matter how much or how little goes to the charity. In this case, that probably means that you can’t deduct anything: in return for your $1 “donation”, you get to play a game that normally costs $1.

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  3. Steve Nations says:

    Any plans for more games? Great idea, I hope it takes off.

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  4. Voice of Reason says:

    Hidden due to low comment rating. Click here to see.

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    • Eric R says:

      “Why not just let the honest consumers keep their winnings, and spend the money on products and services for their own private use of their choice. Why force them to relinquish their spoils of victory?”

      Well, that would be a gambling website or a casino. This is a proposed alternative for the fake gambling apps and such that you pay in real money with no possibility of getting any money back.

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      • Voice of Reason says:

        Well, my comment was supposed to be a little tongue in cheek, I guess that it wasn’t received well too. I was just wondering how we need to outlaw gambling at all? Why does it have to be attached to a charitable cause for it to be legal?

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  5. BRK says:

    Another slot games already offers incentives

    MGM Resorts had partnered with a company for an online game named myVegas where players can turn their virtual points into real comps for drinks, meals, shows, and rooms at their Vegas casinos. The virtual points can be accumulated free while playing, as MGM they want people to go to their resorts.

    More can be purchased if one is short of a specific reward they desire. Also spending real world dollars to buy more chips also increases the cap on the rewards (it is capped on 3 rewards redemptions in I believe a 90 day period) though I have yet to spent anything on the game but, we did live extravagantly on our last Vegas trip.

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  6. dgh says:

    Poker! They need to add poker! (right Steven??)

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  7. James says:

    Economics is supposed to be a science, no? So I find it rather disturbing that you can subscribe to a blanket statement like “Americans love to gamble”. Would you trust a physicist who carelessly said that all subatomic particles are protons?

    I think you’ll find (at least my quick Googling shows) that the majority of Americans don’t gamble regularly, defined as say oftener than once a year or so. Even here in Nevada, where I pass banks of slot machines on my way out of the grocery store, the majority don’t gamble regularly, if at all.

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