Savings lotteries

The idea of rewarding savings with prizes dates from at least 1694, when Britain, desperate to pay off war debt, lured savers with a jackpot. Prize-linked savings exist in some form in at least 18 countries today. Perhaps the experience most relevant for the United States is Britain’s Premium Bonds, established in 1956. The interest on the bonds isn’t repaid to the holders. Instead, it goes into a prize fund. Every pound savers put in (to a maximum of £30,000) gives them a chance to win a monthly £1 million jackpot plus a million different smaller prizes — all tax free. The program was begun as “Savings With a Thrill,” and the winning numbers were announced each month by celebrities.

At the program’s 50th anniversary, there was £32 billion in bonds — providing the government with capital at a cheaper rate than borrowing. Nearly 40 percent of Britain’s population — 23 million people — hold Premium Bonds. They are sometimes, but not always, the best savings deal — there is often a product whose return is better than the odds of what you’d win with Premium Bonds with average luck. But that’s the point: even though they might not be the left-brain choice, they get people to save.

In America, banks can’t run raffles or lotteries. They can run sweepstakes. The difference is a sweepstakes can’t require entrants to put in money — people must be able to enter by simply sending in their names. That effectively kills the idea for banks.

D2D, which is short for Doorways to Dreams, works to change federal and state laws to allow banks to offer prize-linked savings. But it is also collaborating with institutions that can do this right now: credit unions. In some states, credit unions can hold raffles. Michigan has long been one of them, and in 2008 D2D approached the Michigan Credit Union League about trying it out. Eight credit unions joined a pilot.

…For each deposit of $25, savers got normal interest, plus one entry to the annual grand prize and monthly smaller prizes of between $25 and $100. More deposits meant more chances to win, up to $250 – 10 chances — a month.

From Tina Rosenberg, there is more here.  The perceptive reader will note that insofar as you get to keep your money, no lottery payment is possible.  The seller of the lottery therefore must skim some off the top, one way or another.  So think of this as a savings component bundled with a lottery component but of course the buyers can spend more from their other sources of funds.  Perhaps if this “savings program” ends up looking virtuous enough, it could bring new, otherwise responsible customers to the idea of playing the lottery.

For the pointer I thank sellmejunk, a loyal MR reader.


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