How confident are you that you'll get an A in physics or a 4.0 GPA this year at college? Confident enough to put some money on it? Many students in colleges and universities across the US are doing just that.
Ultrinsic (it's official name is Ultrinsic Motivator, Inc.) is a relatively new web site with a extraordinarily new idea. It lets students in 36 colleges and universities place bets on their grades.
Here's how it works. You create a free account, enter the courses you're enrolled in, and place a bet on what grade you'll make, A, B, etc. Wagers start at $25, but they increase over time, depending on how often you use the site. Ultrinsic calculates the odds that you'll make the grade based on your college history and information it finds on the course's difficulty.
At the end of the semester, you verify your grades by giving Ultrinsic your transcripts. If you hit your target grade, it deposits your winnings into your account, which you can withdraw at anytime after you verify your grades. If you don't, it keeps the money you bet via your credit card payment.
Fresh out of high school and feel really confident? Ultrinsic has a special offer for you. If you bet a mere $20 that you'll graduate college with a 4.0 GPA and you actually do it, Ultrinsic will pay you $2,000.
Is It Legal?
As the law stands in August 2010, betting on your grades at Ultrinsic is probably legal, but it's debatable. That's because online gambling is illegal in the US, except in a few states, such as Nevada. But is betting on your grades "gambling?" Some, like Ultrinsic's co-founder Steven Wolf, say there's no element of chance or luck involved, one of the main ingredients to the legal definition of "gambling." Students are in full control of their grades and their odds of winning, and it takes skill, not luck. You can't say that about traditional gambling games, like dice and slot machines.
On the other hand, your instructors have a lot of control over your grades, so there's an argument (albeit a weak one), that there's an element of chance involved.
If it is illegal, it's quite possible that Ultrinsic would be covered by a proposed new law making its way through the US Congress legalizing online or internet gambling.
Just because it's legal doesn't mean there aren't other potential problems with wagering on Ultrinsic. For example, you have to give it access to your school transcripts, either by mailing it a copy of them or by giving them your academic ID so they can access your grades online.
This poses security problems. Who exactly will see your transcripts and the personal information they often contain, like your social security number and address? How long are the records kept, how are they protected from hackers, and how are they destroyed after your grades are verified?
There are some other less serious issues, too. Are students betting on their grades more likely than not to cheat to help make sure they win? What about the reverse? Ultrinsic offers "grade insurance," which pays out if you get a bad grade. Will students intentionally do poorly to make some extra money?
Probably not. The consequences for cheating in college are much more sever than losing $25 or $100 - academic suspension or expulsion can have life-long effects. And, if you think about it, is it worth $25 to trash your GPA - and potential job prospects?
What Do You Think?
Ultrinsic probably does, as advertised, give students an incentive to do well in school. Whether it's a good way to spend your money is another question. For many, the cost of college tuition and a tough post-graduation job market is incentive enough to do well in college.
Regardless, before you place a bet, it's a good idea to get some answers from Ultrinsic about its security measures. Winning $25 or $100 isn't worth having your identity stolen or privacy invaded!
Questions for Your Attorney
- Is money I win on Ultrinsic taxable? Can I take deduction if I lose?
- What happens if Ultrinsic goes out business and it owes me money?
- Does my college have to allow Ultrinsic to access my transcripts?