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It's not a casino - it's an experiment

It's a matter of life or death. The red, ten-sided die tumbles across Lauren Queen's fingers before she sends it flying through the air and crashing into the cardboard box. The retiree watches the die make its final turns, anxiously waiting to see if it will finally be "game over" or if he'll live to play another round of the Retirement Game.

At the next station, another player blows on a pair of dice. "For good luck," she says, handing them back to Russ Waddell. Across the table, Yannick Kroger is laying crisp dollar bills in the palm of a lucky investor. Like a Vegas pit boss, Matthew Woodall sits to the side, keeping meticulous track of the action before him.

It may vaguely look like casino action, but it's actually a game that simulates one of the most reputable financial activities in the book: investing. The Retirement Game was invented by professors, but the sessions themselves were run by William and Mary students. Waddell, Kroger and Woodall graduated in 2007; Woodall with a Mason School M.B.A., the other two with undergraduate degrees.

A large number of people - students, faculty and staff - were involved in the Retirement Game's two-year run. Ellen Sutton is the meeting event coordinator at the Center for Public Policy Research at William & Mary. She served as project manager for the experiment, putting up posters, contacting local organizations and placing newspaper ads to recruit participants. She said that she had no trouble in getting willing subjects.

"Some got nervous about participating, but I said, 'I guarantee you're going to have fun,'" said Sutton.

Much of the experiment was researched, developed and run by students. Nearly every presentation over the course of the experiment was given by Erin Ward, who worked on the project as a Chappell Fellow before graduating in 2007. She was the default presenter for a reason.

"Because that was our main treatment, we wanted the presentation to be the same," said Lisa Anderson, a professor of economics at the College.

Amanda Rowe '06, M.B.A. '08 helped design the marketing materials used in the experiment as an independent study. Rebecca Carvatt '06 and Christopher Landry '08 helped design the spreadsheet that was used. Whitney Dunner Turner '07 constructed the database and managed the data input. Woodall M.B.A. '07 did data entry and kept track of the demographic composition of the sessions. Waddell managed the computers. A number of other students helped with every aspect of the experiment, including setting up the sessions, running the experiment and doing data entry.

Now, all of their hard work is paying off as the experiment's results are just beginning to yield findings that are on the cutting edge of behavioral economics research.

"I'm so proud of our students," said Julie Agnew, an assistant professor of economics and finance. She added that the students' strong contribution wasn't too surprising since the College strongly supports undergraduate research.

"It's not shocking, it's William and Mary," she said.