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Use Gambling to Encourage Saving

Prize-linked savings accounts offered through credit unions use the gamification of gambling to encourage savings deposits.

Photo of Jordan King
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We can all think of a person over the age of 50 in our lives whose "retirement planning" involves weekly "investments" in scratch-off lottery tickets. Lotteries took in $70 million in 2014 (source), and a survey of 5,000 Americans found that two thirds of people in their 40s, 50s, and 60s play the lottery each year (source). This boils down to a lot of money being wasted by a group of people who should be investing in retirement.

While we all hope our relatives will beat the odds and strike it rich, even the most unlucky gamblers win with prize-linked savings accounts. Offered through credit unions and nonprofits, these programs reward members who deposit money into savings accounts with a shot at a jackpot. It's essentially gambling without the risk of loss, which is a match made in financial heaven.

An example of PLS success:

"Doorways to Dream, a nonprofit organization based in Massachusetts, helped start Save to Win in Michigan five years ago. It is now the nation’s largest prize-linked savings program, having spread to Nebraska, Washington and North Carolina. The program has created 50,000 accounts that saved a total of $94 million ..."

What is a provocation or insight that might inspire others during this challenge?

A prize-linked savings program that is designed specifically for people approaching their retirement age could shift behavior away from lottery programs and toward savings accounts.

Tell us about your work experience:

My background is in communication. I worked in tech for the past few years before deciding to launch Bold Folks Home, a socially conscious film project that highlights awesome seniors in our society.

Specifically, please check all that apply:

  • I'm not currently involved in a credit union, but am curious to learn more!


Join the conversation:

Photo of Faizan

Great contribution Jordan. This is a great point to bring into view because it's very true that elders are already gambling so much of their money away, might as well turn it into a retirement fund of sorts. Also gambling will also add game-ification to the retirement funds, which will lead to greater participation. 

Photo of Kate Rushton

Hi Jordan!

Thank you for your entry and I wish you all the best with Bold Folks Home - 

I have had a look at Save To Win ( Can I just check something with you? These accounts pay no interest just prize wins and the account holders need to keep making regular deposits for the duration of their account. Then they can close the account without paying a fee. I checked the FAQs for this one but wanted to make sure this is standard. 

Photo of Jordan King

Hey Kate! Sorry for the delay. It looks like the accounts do pay interest: 

"When you Save to Win, you not only get a chance at winning $5,000, but you walk away with the deposits you made over the year – plus interest. A definite win-win situation!" - (

Any thoughts on PLS programs?

Photo of Kate Rushton

Hi Jordan! Personally, I like the idea of these accounts because they offer an outlet for people to gamble but still keep their money and accrue some interest. When interest rates are low, these accounts will be even more attractive for customers. I have been looking for some figures on spending on the lottery in the US and found this: ‘In North Dakota, per-capita lottery spending is a pittance at just $36 a year. In South Dakota, however, it’s an egregious $755 per head. Lotto games bring in the most money per person in the mid-Atlantic and northeast: number-one Rhode Island (nearly $800 per capita!), Massachusetts, and Delaware are among the top five states, while New York, Maryland, New Jersey, Connecticut, and Pennsylvania join them in the top 13 (so does Washington, D.C.).’ ‘Households earning less than $13,000 a year spend a shocking 9% of their money on lottery tickets, Henry Blodget relays from a PBS report.’ ‘About three out of four instant game tickets sold in Minnesota are purchased by people with below-average incomes, according to Spry. He also cites research that shows that in South Carolina, 60% of instant lottery tickets were purchased by people with very low incomes.’ Based on these figures, diverting money that would have been spent on the lottery into a ‘Save to Win’ type of account could result in the account holders accruing a decent amount of money over a number of years without it significantly affecting their current lifestyle.

Photo of Jaskeerat Bedi

Jordan : Love your post! When I first visited a casino in the North Eastern US, I was shocked to see that most of the age group were well over 50+. In fact, found a 2010 stat that also proves my observation.  Gambling, Casinos, Lottery all attract a particular segment more than other! I would love to hear/ see some thoughts or insights that your work in interacting with senior people has lead in this direction!

Photo of Jordan King

Thanks, Jaskeerat! Those statistics are very enlightening. Most of the nursing home residents I work with in my Bold Folks Home project don't have an opportunity to gamble, at least that I'm aware of. My inspiration comes from relatives who routinely purchase tickets with hopes of hitting it big. I also saw a lot of seniors at the only casino I've visited, which was in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. I think that gambling is a simple form of "investment" that has incredibly low barriers to entry, which makes it appeal to people who may have procrastinated on actual retirement planning.

Photo of OpenIDEO

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