Online gambling might be illegal in most of the United States, but a new weight loss trend called “social dieting” has opened up a world of legalized online betting to dieters in all states. In a nutshell, social dieters wager a certain amount of money on the bet that they will lose a predetermined amount of weight in a predetermined amount of time. With such a financial incentive, some dieters say they are more likely to stick to their weight loss regimens. They don't want to lose their money to other "gamers" who are more successful at shedding pounds.
Social dieting is facilitated by websites like HealthyWage.com and DietBetter.com. Both sites claim that their program isn't “gambling” in the legal sense because bettors are in complete control of the outcome of their wagers. Some skeptics disagree, saying that while contestants might be in complete control of their weight loss, they are not always in control of the amount of money they can win through these social dieting contests.
Dieters Gamble at HealthyWage.com
One of the hottest sites for wagering dieters is HealthyWage.com. This site invites potential bettors to enter how much weight they would like to lose into a reward calculator. The top prize is $10,000, but different people receive different payouts depending on their own personal circumstances. The method through which bettors intend to lose weight is factored into the payout equation; contestants can choose from such programs as Weight Watchers, Jenny Craig, bariatric surgery, and more. The reason for which a bettor enters the program is also factored into the prize equation. Choices include “bathing suit shopping,” “doctor's orders,” and “I want to be healthier.”
“Before” and “after” weights are recorded and submitted to HealthyWage.com by bettors via a 30-second video. Those who can prove their weight loss goal was met from start to finish receive the predetermined payout. Those who fail to achieve their goal lose the money they initially wagered.
The founder of HealthyWage.com, David Roddenberry, has said that his site is less about gambling and more about rewarding healthy dieting behavior. While some anti-gambling groups have been reluctant to give their blessing to the site, Roddenberry remarked that “using language around gambling makes (weight loss) more exciting for people,” and that fact in itself is enough reason for the site to succeed.
Another popular site for weight loss bettors is DietBetter.com. This site invites potential clients to join a weight loss “team.” Teams are available in two categories: The 4 percent body weight loss/4-week program and the 10 percent body weight loss/6-month program. Each team member wagers a predetermined amount of money which is placed into a “pot.” At the end of the weight loss challenge, the pot is split between all victors, less administrative fees.
Just like HealthyWage.com, “before” and “after” weights are recorded and submitted to DietBetter staff. Unlike HealthyWage.com, the payout is not determined until the end of the game. If 100 percent of participants succeed, the payout evens out at $0. If 80 percent of participants meet their goal, the fees collected from the losing 20 percent are redistributed to the winners.
DietBetter.com founder Jamie Rosen was inspired to create his site after watching co-workers get excited about weight loss in an office diet competition. Rosen attributes his site's success largely to the Fun Theory, a simple-yet-profound philosophy that people can change their behavior for the better when fun is involved.
Speed Camera Lottery
Every year, the originators of Fun Theory hold a contest to see who can come up with the most interesting application of the theory toward positive change. In 2010, U.S. native Kevin Richardson came up with the “speed camera lottery” idea. In Richardson's imagined concept, every person caught obeying the speed limit would be automatically entered into a lottery to win money. The Volkswagen company was so impressed by Richardson's idea, they turned it into a reality in Stockholm, Sweden with highly acclaimed results.
Social Dieting Compared to Casino Gambling
Most casino patrons, both online and on land, gamble for fun. The potential thrill of a win prompts them to wager cash over and over again. Every time a person wins at a slot machine, for example, a positive association between gambling and winning is anchored in that person's mind. Consequently, the player continues to feed coins into the machine, hoping for another reward, another win.
Social dieting also involves betting money in the hope of a financial win. While some dieters view their success as a "game of chance," others view it as a prospect completely within the bettor's control. Because the public cannot agree on whether dieting is more a matter of chance or control, sites like HealthyWage.com and DietBetter.com are able to operate without recourse from federal regulators at this time.
Tontine: Part Lottery, Part Annuity
Although social dieting is a relatively new concept, the overall structure of its wager and payout system is centuries old. The social phenomenon can actually be traced back to the 17th century, to a system of investments and capital-raising known as a "tontine".
Similar to the process at DietBetter.com, each member of a tontine contributes money to a "pot." Each subscriber receives a small fraction of the pot every year; this fraction is called an "annuity." As subscribers die off, the annuity recipients receive more and more of the unclaimed cash. This system is a "lottery" in the sense that luck is involved; some people die earlier than others.
At DietBetter.com, one of the current "pots" has climbed to over $12,000. Similar to a tontine, the last "survivors" standing at the end of the competition will split the pot. Life insurance policies that distribute annuities are similar. Several years ago, Wall Street bankers came up with the idea to buy life insurance policies from elderly and sick people and then sell the cash in the form of bonds to investors. Steven Weisbart, an official from the Insurance Information Institute, called this a "gambling product," not an "investment product."
People who get excited by gambling may be especially responsive to online social dieting programs. These programs are legal in spite of the fact that they "feel" a lot like gambling. Critics question the legality of the programs, but no laws are in place at this time to prevent them.