A friend of mine recently attempted to create a The Biggest Loser knockoff in his school. The basic premise was that each "contestant" would contribute $10 to compete, and the winner(s) would take home the pot.

However, he was told that one of the rabbis of the school protested, on the basis that this was gambling. He has since asked the rabbi, who allowed the program to continue so long as there is no "buy-in," and the school is now funding the prize.

I'm curious about the reasoning behind that decision. How might TBL be considered gambling? Why does the lack of a buy-in change anything?

According to Rabbi Moshe Taub, there are two main issues in gambling in Jewish law. There is "Yishuv Olam," which only applies if the gambler makes his livelihood from gambling. That is clearly not an issue here.
The other issue is "asmachta," which is used here to refer to the possibility of theft in gambling, because a person who puts down money doesn't really let go of it, so the winner might effectively steal the money from his fellow. It seems to me (though I may be wrong) that this might only forbid games of chance to be forbidden, because a contestant has no control over the outcome. Should there be a difference when contestant does have some control over the outcome?

Additionally, my friend argued that many people will likely join the competition without at all expecting to win -- he claims that many (if not most) of the contestants join the program because it provides some motivation to work a little harder on their weight loss, without even trying to win.

If, in fact, the TBL game is forbidden because of gambling, would the ruling change if the overseers of the program provided services (eg nutrition advice, health coaching, gym membership) in exchange for the entry fee? If they did that, then maybe the contestants would completely give away their entry fee, negating the concern of asmachta.

  • 1
    @DoubleAA would probably say that gambling isn't a discrete legal category in halakha, so the question isn't whether it is 'considered gambling', but rather whether it is considered a form of theft.
    – mevaqesh
    Commented Feb 15, 2017 at 2:01
  • To add to your last point, I don't think you need to go so far as to say that it isn't gambling because of a "fee" for nutrition etc. People enter a BLC even if they don't think they'll win, because it provides good motivation. Commented Feb 15, 2017 at 2:01
  • Is this question asking, essentially, whether games of skill can be considered asmachta? If so, I expect that there's a great deal of directly-relevant literature.
    – Isaac Moses
    Commented Feb 15, 2017 at 16:22
  • Can you clarify "The Biggest Loser"? I'm familiar with a U.S. television show by this name. It involves a competition of various obese people losing weight. It does not involve any gambling, at all. Is this what you mean?
    – DanF
    Commented Feb 15, 2017 at 18:54
  • @DanF The TV show is not really relevant here (though I did include a Wikipedia link). The particular game involved here was merely inspired by TBL, and all you need to know about it is described in the post. (Contestants contribute to the "pot," winner(s) take the pot home)
    – MTL
    Commented Feb 15, 2017 at 18:58


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