Lucky Day is giving away free money to attract ad eyeballs. How could it possibly fail?

By Dan Raile , written on November 13, 2015

From The Gaming Desk

Twenty-year-old Joshua Javaheri has boiled the mobile app economy down to its very essence.

His free app, Lucky Day, lets users play virtual slot machines and scratchers, and pays them out with real money.

“Is it more entertaining to play games for no money, or for a bunch of money?” he asks.

If this sounds like gambling, keep in mind that Lucky Day is completely free to play – there’s no chance for users to lose anything other than time (and neural pathways). Legally speaking, it is a sweepstake, and so doesn’t have to contend with the fraught regulations awaiting would-be lottery or gambling apps.  

“In a way we are like a charity, giving money away,” Javaheri said by phone. In fact, users have an option to donate their winnings to a cause selected by Lucky Day. Or they can have it transferred to themselves via Paypal.

But Javaheri, currently a junior at the University of Southern California, is running a business, not a charity. How does one profit from an app that gives away free money? That should be obvious, Silicon Valley: one does so (one day, maybe) through advertising.

For now, Lucky Day is ad-free and focused on user acquisition. Users’ winnings are taken from a half-million seed investment raised in January from the enigmatic House of Bijan – the ultra-high-end Rodeo Drive fashion and fragrance emporium. A Beverly Hills native, Javeheri and a team of 13 people are staying busy rolling out new games, levels and loyalty features, building the ad platform to be to launch the app to the top of the app stores, buying customer acquisition by directly paying its customers.  

Of course, this is not the first free app to give away free money. Past efforts, like iBotta, ReceiptHog or Swagbucks required users to perform piddling micro-tasks. Lucky Day only asks that you play some games while its ads burrow into your eyes.

The ads will be incorporated into the games themselves, and Javaheri said he’s already had commitments from Dole, the Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf, and Fatburger. The fruit spinning in the slot machine will be branded fruits, the scratchers’ iconography brandy too. A portion of that CPM goes directly to users’ pockets (or the charity of Lucky Day’s choice when a user feels charitable--a nice corporate giving hack on the side). Winning plays reap $1 to $5, and Javaheri figures the experience of getting free money will bring players back again and again and again, a couple of minutes at a time, in lines, in the bathroom, waking up – in life’s little gaps. Driving up the CPM.

And who doesn’t want free money?

“We want everyone to feel like a winner,” Javaheri said. It’s a feeling he cherishes.

“I’m a big fan of arcades, and the feeling of winning. I love winning,” he said.

If he wins, he may someday threaten to disrupt the monopoly of state lotteries over legal gambling in the streets, and change the economics of how we interact with our pocket computers.

“We want to build a world around this simple concept, in the long-term we are building an ecosystem.”

Who can tell what such an ecosystem would look like? What sorts of things will future generations yearn to click, swipe and tilt at for randomized payouts, selling attention cheap rather than giving it away for free?

The future generation is here, its time is now. Burn cash to buy users a dollar here, five there; earn cash by staring mutely into the glow of your phone. Nothing provides that sweet dopamine spike quite like cash. Of course, if this is the advertising model of the near future, we may have already reached peak app.