Researcher makes gambling into charity


The modern American is overwhelmed by immersive entertainment. As a consequence, a high level of engagement is required to hold the average attention span., a gambling website, attempts to combat this lack of attention using the theory of “gamification,” in hopes of eliciting the philanthropist within us all.

The website offers a new perspective on charity, Michael Lindemuth, co-founder of the website and a research engineer at the USF College of Marine Science, said.

“What we’re trying to do is solve the problem of donor engagement,” he said.

Pledge Your Bets encourages charity by fostering competition, he said.

Users place bets against each other on contests ranging from the Super Bowl to the Academy Awards.

The user selects an event and then chooses from a list of charities. Once the wages are placed, the pledges from the bettors are collected into a pool and distributed to the charities selected by the winners.

Of the money pledged, 90 percent goes directly to charitable causes. A cut from the remaining 10 percent is spent on overhead costs, including credit card transaction fees, leaving some compensation for Lindemuth and his partner.

The site currently has $2 pledged toward one charity. Lindemuth said he thinks this is an innovative use of gambling, in which everyone is a winner to some degree.

“You’re not losing your money — you’re giving your money. And it will be to a good charity, even if it’s not the one you wanted,” he said.

Though none of the money can be recouped, the psychological euphoria is reward enough, Lindemuth said.

“When you win at the casino, you keep wanting to come back,” he said. “Winning money for your charity is just as engaging.”

According to Lindemuth, the concept has gotten a largely positive response from active gamblers.

Lindemuth said a speculator could play the odds, potentially netting his charity a large return with a small investment. The infrequent, yet ample victory is one of the psychological reinforcements practiced by “gamification.”

“If you put $1 on the Buccaneers, and there’s $100 behind the Patriots, you could actually win $100 for your charity,” he said.

The website, which went live Oct. 28, appeals to the technologically inclined, Ken Klatt, the other co-founder, said and he hopes to connect fraternities and sororities with the site.

The majority of Greek organizations have philanthropy officers who should be intrigued by the premise, Klatt said.

“Fraternities can turn intramural competition with one another into philanthropic activities,” he said.

Pledge Your Bets will eventually incorporate a social aspect, adding teams and leaderboards. Fraternities will be able to compare statistics, comparing their members with those of rival fraternities, Lindemuth said.

Lindemuth said he would also like to add badges — tokens awarded for various achievements such as winning a certain percentage of wagers, or donating a certain sum of money, a type of reward system that is a cornerstone of “gamification.”

Lindemuth said the idea came to him two years ago from a thread he saw on Reddit, a social news and entertainment website. A poster claimed it would donate $100 to the most requested, or up-voted, charity if the New York Jets lost to the Denver Broncos. Ironically, the most up-voted charity was the Tim Tebow Foundation, the charity endorsed by Denver’s then-quarterback.

“The irony really hit me,” he said. “I thought that was a really good concept.”

Lindemuth met Klatt at Startup Weekend, an event held across the country to promote innovative entrepreneurship. Pledge Your Bets won second place as a startup business.

It was a rough start, Lindemuth said.

A law was passed that restricted gambling soon after their partnership began.

As a result, their business model changed.

Originally, only the losers had to follow through with donating their pledges, being forced to donate to the charities chosen by the winners.

Currently, they are ensuring donors can claim tax deductions under state law.

With engaging interactivity and just a touch of marketing, Lindemuth said he hopes “gamification” will compel those with a sense of risk and altruism to visit the website often.