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.