Widgets Magazine

Gambling website offers cash to make the grade

Think you can get an A in IHUM? Want to make a bet?

That’s what New York-based website Ultrinsic.com lets students do. The grade-gambling service offers up to $2,000 on graduation day to a student who wagers $20 at the beginning of freshman year that he or she will finish college with a 4.0 GPA and follows through.

But that’s the longest shot (and biggest payout) available on the website. Ultrinsic, founded by Queens College graduates Steven Wolf and Jeremy Gelbart, is a Web-based college platform that provides incentives to students for academic achievement with wagers beginning at $10 per course.

The site serves 36 schools in the United States, including Stanford. The student must go to the site, upload his or her course schedule and give the site permission to look into his or her school records. Students are not required to provide their academic login information and have the option to manually enter courses into the system.

At term’s end, the student mails in his or her official transcript as proof of grades earned, and Ultrinsic credits that student’s account accordingly.

For example, a student hoping to get an A- or higher in a class can bet $100 that he or she will do so. The company will contribute another $100. If the student gets the wagered grade or higher, he or she receives $200; if the student doesn’t get the grade, the company keeps the student’s $100.

Students are responsible for any discrepancies between their academic history and class schedule as displayed on Ultrinsic and those on official record at their school. Ultrinsic may charge a $5 fee per discrepancy. Additionally, Ultrinsic’s policies include sending an IRS Form 1099 to anyone who earns more than $600 on the site in any given year.

Still, the legality of wagering money on grades is ambiguous. Debra Zumwalt, vice president and general counsel for Stanford University, wrote in an e-mail to The Daily that although Stanford has not yet looked into the legality of the website, she hopes “students are smart enough that they would not use it.”

Most states have outlawed betting on “unlicensed games of chance,” but Ultrinsic’s founders argue that because the outcome depends on the skill and effort of the bettor, the website does not qualify as a game of chance and therefore does not constitute gambling.

A site spokesperson last week did not return The Daily’s request for comment.

Ultrinsic is earning consternation of university officials across the United States, some of whom emphasize that their schools, regardless of their presence on the site’s list of participating universities, are not affiliated with the site.

Lisa Lapin, assistant vice president for Stanford University communications, told the Wall Street Journal that Stanford officials were “appalled” by Ultrinsic’s motivational methods and that she feels the entire concept of betting on grades is “contrary to academic development.”

When he first heard about Ultrinsic, Dean Richard Saller of the School of the Humanities and Sciences said although he didn’t think it should be immediately suppressed, he does not think it is a good idea.

“It adds pressure to grade inflation, [and] it will make grades increasingly meaningless,” Saller said in an e-mail to The Daily.

University Registrar Tom Black said in a written statement that he would compare Ultrinsic to betting on athletic events and, by extension, the site is comparable to athletes betting on their own performances on the field.

Black added that the short-term financial gains offered by the site are “corrupting to one’s development, purposes and spirit” and are not in line with the University’s core values.

Officials at Pennsylvania State University denounced Ultrinsic as “dangerous gambling” and have threatened the site with legal action if it attempts to access students’ personal information.

Last year, Ultrinsic facilitated wagers by 600 students from two colleges. Since the website’s expansion in August, more than 1,000 new students have registered. Although it is currently only available to undergraduates in the United States, Ultrinsic has plans to expand internationally and to graduate students in the future.