A few months back, I helped start a little company, SpinforGood, that offers a new way to give to charity while having fun. It’s not legal in the U.S. to play games like slots and blackjack for real money online, but it is legal to play those games online for charity. So it’s our hope that by hooking up people who like to gamble online with charities, we can let people have fun while doing a whole lot of good.
We are running a special tournament today and tomorrow. In this particular tournament, I personally donated $1,000 of my own money to the prize pool to give people an extra incentive to participate. Which charities get my money (and yours) will be decided by the tournament winners. So for a $10 donation, you can have fun gambling and potentially win thousands of dollars for the charity of your choice. Read More »
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. Read More »
Our latest podcast is called “Government Employees Gone Wild.” (You can download/subscribe at iTunes, get the RSS feed, or listen via the media player in the post. You can also read the transcript below; it includes credits for the music you’ll hear in the episode.)
It’s about a book that I’ve come to love — a most unusual book. What makes it unusual?
1. It is made available online, as a Word document, but is not actually published.
2. It is free (or, more accurately, it’s already been paid for — by U.S. taxpayers).
3. It is published by the U.S. Department of Defense.
This unusual book is called The Encyclopedia of Ethical Failure, and you can get it here (2013 additions here). What is it? It’s an ethics guide for government employees, full of true stories about epic screw-ups. In the podcast, you’ll hear from the Encyclopedia‘s founding editor (Steve Epstein) and its current editor (Jeff Green). Read More »
InTrade, the Dublin-based prediction market (i.e., betting platform) that we’ve written about regularly over the years (including a Q&A with its founder, John Delaney, who has since died), is under legal scrutiny from U.S. regulators and will therefore stop taking bets from U.S. customers. Here is InTrade’s statement, and here is the CFTC’s press release on the shutdown. What will U.S. regulators do next, outlaw online poker?
Anglicare, a Tasmanian welfare agency, has submitted a proposal to the Australian government’s inquiry into problem gambling that would require pokies (the Aussie version of a slot machine) players to stand up while playing. “We don’t want to punish people, but there are things we can do to assist problem gamblers to get a break in play,” said Chris Jones, the CEO of Anglicare. “If they want a break, they can sit elsewhere, but they don’t need to take a seat in front of a machine.” Read More »
In the Boston Globe, Andrea Estes and Scott Allen write about how people have been taking advantage of a statistical quirk in the rules of an obscure Massachusetts Lottery game called Cash WinFall. A Michigan couple in their 70s, Marjorie and Gerald Selbee, spent three days buying more than $600,000 in Cash WinFall tickets from two convenience stores in Sunderland, Mass. Their timing was purposeful:
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For a few days about every three months, Cash WinFall may be the most reliably lucrative lottery game in the country. Because of a quirk in the rules, when the jackpot reaches roughly $2 million and no one wins, payoffs for smaller prizes swell dramatically, which statisticians say practically assures a profit to anyone who buys at least $100,000 worth of tickets. During these brief periods – “rolldown weeks’’ in gambling parlance – a tiny group of savvy bettors, among them highly trained computer scientists from MIT and Northeastern University, virtually take over the game. Just three groups, including the Selbees, claimed 1,105 of the 1,605 winning Cash WinFall tickets statewide after the rolldown week in May, according to lottery records. They also appear to have purchased about half the tickets, based on reports from the stores that the top gamblers frequent most.
As an economist, Steven Levitt says he has an underdeveloped moral compass. In the past, the University of Chicago professor and Freakonomics co-author has tricked colleagues into drinking cheap wine and opined that drug dealers in Sao Paulo would do a better job keeping communities safe.
But his moral compass went spinning when the U.S. recently cracked down on the top three online poker companies, resulting in 11 indictments. The federal government accused PokerStars, Full Tilt Poker and Absolute Poker of running their operations illegally, including paying banks to secretly process transactions.
“I think it makes no sense at all,” Levitt says. “Most things that are made illegal, everyone agrees on: homicide, theft–there’s a general agreement. And then there are these other activities that fall into a gray area. I think poker is so obviously on one side of the gray area relative to legality that it just doesn’t make any sense to me.”
Levitt says he doesn’t usually get riled up over such issues, but then he realized why he got so angry: his daughter. Read More »
The “Daughter Test” of Government Prohibitions (And Why I’m so Angry About the U.S. Internet Poker Crackdown)
I was outraged a few weeks back when the U.S. government cracked down on internet poker. It took me a while to figure out why.
One of the most important roles of government is establishing a set of rules under which society will operate. Governments determine property rights and coordinate the provision of public goods. Some frowned upon activities are deemed illegal (e.g. homicide); other favored activities are encouraged through subsidies (e.g. home ownership, education). Read More »