Monday, September 28, 2009

Winnit is gambling

Sorry I've been away so long. Would you believe I was busy rescuing orphans from burning buildings? What about tigers, I was rescuing orphans from tigers? Yeah, my wife didn't believe it either.

What brought me back was reading the How it works from
Winnit members bid against each other by placing their guess for the lowest, unique amount on any given product, which results in a winning price that equates to a small fraction of retail cost. The goal is to be the first (and only!) member to bid a price as close to zero as possible without guessing a price that someone else has already bid.
Yeah, this is just gambling, and I'll tell you why.

Imagine that you are the last person to bid. Let's say you are bidding on the Porsche Cayman and you've decided to bid no more than $10. Assume for the sake of argument, that of the 1000 possible bids (that is, 1¢ to $10.00), 9999 are already taken. You don't know that, of course, but it would still be a good bet: $4 for a 1000-to-1 chance of winning a $50,000 car (even after the $10,000 - $20,000 you'd pay in taxes).

But which one should you pick?

Should you pick 1¢? That's cheap, which is good, but being cheap, someone already must have picked it. Should you pick $10 then? The price will have frightened off everybody else! Ooh, everybody else who doesn't realize that what you just realized, that a higher price is more likely to be unique. On the other hand...

But after a moment, this reverie is broken by the obvious: you only have to pay your bid if you win. And be serious, is there any difference paying 1¢ for a new Porsche or $10? Of course not: either way, it's effectively a free car. And if you feel this way, so does everybody else. None of the 1000 possible bids is really any different from any of the others. Picking the winning price is just a matter of luck.

And there's a name for any game where winning is just a matter of luck: gambling.

Interestingly, if the system awarded the victory highest unique bid, it would become less like gambling. While there is obviously no meaningful difference between paying 1¢ and $10 for a sports-car, there is difference between paying $10,000 and $20,000. They are both great deals, but they are still quite distinguishable. So, at least in theory, you could plumb the psychology of your opponents and make yourself more likely win by picking the price none of them would.


  1. here is what winnit says about gambling:

    - No, Winnit is not a lottery. Winnit members may affect the result and outcome of an auction by waging bids against one another and by acquiring a skill for our auctions.

    I can see how a penny auction site can make the claim of being a game of skill, but this auction? No way!

  2. What kind of skill would possibly make you more likely to win a lowest-unique-bid auction? What kind of expertise would tell you "Bid $3.12 because $1.56 and $6.24 are both bad choices!"

  3. "Winnit members may affect the result and outcome of an auction by waging bids against one another."

    Lottery winners may also affect the outcome of a random drawing - like if two people pick the same number and split the prize. But you can't call that skill.

    Does winnit have a lawyer? swoopo does and their argument about not being a gambling site is far more convincing