The lottery has often been described as a "tax on those who don't understand probability." However, it seems some enterprising folks are trying to use that basic fact to help people who have trouble saving money (who often overlap with the folks who don't understand probability) to save more. Apparently some credit unions in Michigan are experimenting with a lottery feature as a part of a savings account
Psychologists have long known that people tend to overestimate the odds of rare events. Applying that behavioral insight, finance professor Peter Tufano of Harvard Business School has devised a clever program called "Save to Win." Launched earlier this year for members of eight credit unions in Michigan, it is a cross between a certificate of deposit and a raffle ticket. Members who put $25 or more into a Save to Win one-year CD are entered into a monthly "savings raffle" for prizes up to $400, plus one annual drawing for a $100,000 jackpot.
Apparently, this program has attracted $3.1 million in new deposits, many (the article claims) from people who have never been able to save much money. In many ways it is like buying a lottery ticket, except that you don't lose the money paid for the ticket. The credit unions make this work by paying out a slightly lower interest rate on the CD in question, but the net effect works out to benefit everyone. Many who put their money into such an account would never have put their money into a higher rate CD in the first place. In some ways, it's a neat example of efficient price discrimination that expands an overall market.