Oregon Vaccine Lottery Architect on Using Gambling for Social Good

The slogan is quite easy to understand: get a vaccine, for a chance to win a million dollars.

That was the plan Ashby Monk came up with when Oregon State Treasurer Tobias Reed called him in April.

The monk is the Executive and Research Director at Stanford Global Projects Center. He had spent much of his career studying institutional investing before delving into a more thorny question: how to motivate people to make smarter, long-term personal financial decisions.

On the phone, Reed was looking for creative ways to convince more people to get the shot. Oregon’s vaccination rate had been high for several months, but demand was starting to decline as Oregonians most hungry for vaccines had already scheduled their appointments. The state still had a long way to go to meet its goal of a 70% vaccination rate by July 4, President Joe Biden’s target.

How do you help ambivalent vaccinees get out of the fence and get immunized quickly?

Monk’s response was also elegant in its simplicity: make it a game.

Save to earn

Monk said that convincing vaccine-hesitant to sign up for an injection comes with many of the same challenges he saw when he researched how to motivate people to start saving money. In both cases, the initial challenges are many and the long-term benefits are difficult to visualize.

“A lot of people are intimidated by personal finance,” he said. “There are tons of misunderstandings, there is a high cost, you have to put money aside.”

With COVID-19, the combination of uncertainty about the vaccine itself, a cumbersome planning process, and competing personal time obligations kept many people from prioritizing their vaccine appointments.

Monk said the only thing that would not work, however, told people what was best for them.

“There’s a whole world in the personal finance space that is focused on financial literacy,” Monk said, “which is another way of saying, ‘Let’s just try to teach everyone how to behave. “

Research shows that the approach doesn’t do much. A 2013 meta-analysis in the journal Management Science found that traditional financial literacy programs resulted in only a 0.1% change in individual financial behaviors.

“You could almost say that the takeaway from all of these financial literacy programs is that they don’t worst personal finance, ”Monk said.

Monk found a solution in price-linked savings accounts. He started a business motivate people to save money by enticing them to win cash prizes as long as their money stays in the bank. The practice was enacted by President Barack Obama in 2014, and it has proven to be a success: a recent Northwestern University Kellogg School of Management study found that 110 bank branches with price-related savings programs saw a 41% increase in the number of new personal savings accounts opened.

Age of games

“Look: it’s the age of games,” Monk recently told the OPB Weekend Edition.

With the ubiquitous rise of smartphones, more and more of our daily decisions are gamified. Want to eat better or train faster? There is an application for that. We use games to sleep better, to follow in our footsteps, even to meet new people – just look at the culture of online dating sweep.

Monk said the trick provides people with extrinsic motivation to make better decisions based on the hope of uncertain but potentially huge payoff.

“People play for the chance to change their lives with luck,” Monk said. “It’s like, ‘If I win, the change is going to be amazing. And I don’t really feel the cost.

Preparation of the COVID-19 vaccine at a drive-thru vaccination clinic at Portland International Airport on April 9, 2021. The clinic is a joint operation organized by Oregon Health & Science University, Port of Portland and Cross. American red.

Kristyna Wentz-Graff / OPB

In designing the Oregon Vaccine Lottery, he pushed the governor’s team to focus on three priorities. First, there had to be a variable reward price.

“It’s a type of gambling prize where not everyone wins,” he said.

That big million dollar prize would motivate people to sign up, even generating a bit of fear of missing out (yes, he used the term “FOMO”). Why play if there is no big reward?

Second, there had to be a chance to feel some closeness to the winner. That’s why he asked for a smaller price of $ 10,000 in each of Oregon’s 36 counties.

“We wanted every community and region to have winners so maybe someone you know wins,” said Monk, “so you can really visualize yourself winning this thing.”

Finally, it had to be safe for the participants. Monk recognizes that this is one of the biggest problems for conventional lotteries. “I can find you losers,” he said. “These are people who often have a hard time making the money they have in hand and unfortunately he is leaving.”

Free games

Since Oregon’s announcement, vaccine lottery fever has swept the country. Both California and Washington have announced their own lottery programs to step up vaccination efforts.

Early results suggest the incentive may be working here in Oregon. Daily vaccinations are up in several rural counties: Marion County reports a 2.3% increase, Sherman County is up 2.5%, Gilliam County up 2.1% since before the announcement of the lottery. These are places where previous trends anticipated a drop in the vaccination rate.

Oregon Governor Kate Brown announced on Friday that we are closer than ever to reaching the 70% vaccination threshold that will allow the state’s economy to reopen, and that we are even in ahead of schedule. The Oregon Health Authority estimates that we will meet this goal by June 21 at the latest.

But Monk said the biggest change could come once governments understand how effective games are as a motivator.

“It’s a carrot,” he said. “For those people who love freedom, there is something here that is quite interesting because there is no warrant, is there? It’s about creating an incentive and allowing you to choose.

One of the major tensions in American life this year has been the friction between well-meaning government regulation and the bristling of individuals and communities who feel their rights are being violated. Monk hypothesizes that there are countless ways governments could create more systems that get people to engage in healthier and more productive behaviors, rather than penalizing them for not doing so.

“I would like that to apply to education, maybe social assistance at work or personal health. What if instead of a health mandate, there were health prizes? “

Listen to Ashby Monk’s full conversation with OPB Weekend Edition host John Notarianni using the audio player above.

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