One of the oldest tricks in the arsenal of the professional card shark is to let the “mark” win. It might be just a few hands or it might be a series of games over weeks. Whatever it takes to make the victim think he’s on a hot streak. And whether he thinks it’s due to skill or just luck, the perceived success convinces him he needs to keep going to win all he can.
But in the end he will lose spectacularly, because the card shark has conditioned him to willingly squander his early winnings and then pile up deep losses.
This con game works because winning is fun. And when it involves money, it produces an especially good feeling. Not only have you gained monetarily, but you have somehow proved to be smarter or luckier than all those who didn’t win.
It’s no wonder that gambling—whether in a casino, with lottery tickets, or through a sports betting app—can be so addictive. And many people throw away significant portions of their income chasing that high.
In the past it’s been possible to get the excitement of gambling in the market with activities like day trading stocks or commodities. But it required access to special accounts, advanced computer skills, and a willingness to pay fees.
Recently, software companies have created mobile apps that make this kind of short-term trading as easy as playing a game on your phone.
One of the most successful has been Robinhood.
Not only does this game feature ease-of-use, responsible looking charts and graphs, and the fun of an engaging game, but Robinhood promises that it’s all “commission-free, now and forever.” (However, the company did report quarterly “transaction revenue” of $267 million. There’s still no such thing as a free lunch.)
Robinhood seemed to have found a winning combination and the app rapidly grew its user base into the millions. Last summer the company issued a successful IPO, which gave it a valuation of more than $2 billion.
However, as any casino operator will tell you, unless you’re constantly introducing new games, your visitor count will dwindle.
Robinhood initially rode the excitement surrounding meme-stocks like AMC and GameStop. Then it added cryptocurrency, allowing users to trade in hot virtual payment systems like Dogecoin. But for the last few quarters there’s been a dearth of new instruments to “game.” User acquisition has slowed significantly and the platform lost more than $1 billion in the most recent quarter.
Like a casino, the platform requires a constant infusion of new customers, perhaps to replace the old ones who’ve curtailed their trading after being stung by losses.
Charlie Munger, Warren Buffett’s partner at Berkshire Hathaway, has called Robinhood “a gambling parlor.”
When you strip away the innovative technology and the investing lingo, gambling parlor appears to be an appropriate description.
While gaming can be exciting, for many people it’s proved to be a slippery slope that has led to life-changing financial loss.
On the other hand, saving for retirement, if done properly, is often boring. The prudent investor contributes to his or her nest egg regardless of what the headlines say or how lucky they feel at the time. And with our help, they stick to their uniquely tailored plan irrespective of the market’s continual ups and downs.