Sweepstakes are a type of contest where a prize or prizes may be awarded to a winner or winners. Sweepstakes began as a form of lottery that were tied to products sold. In response, the FCC and FTC refined U.S. broadcasting laws (creating the anti-lottery laws). Under these laws sweepstakes became strictly "No Purchase Necessary to Enter or Win", especially since many sweepstakes companies skirted the law by stating only "No Purchase Necessary to Enter", removing the consideration (one of the three legally required elements of gambling) to stop abuse of sweepstakes. Today, sweepstakes in the USA are used as marketing promotions to reward existing consumers, and to draw attention to a product. By definition, the winner is determined by luck rather than skill.
Sweepstakes with large grand prizes tend to attract more entries regardless of the odds of winning. Therefore, the value of smaller prizes usually total much less than that of the top prize. Firms that rely on sweepstakes for attracting customers, such as Publishers Clearing House and Reader's Digest, have also found that the more involved the entry process, the more entrants.
Because of their potential for abuse, sweepstakes are heavily regulated in many countries. The U.S., Canada, and individual U.S. states all have laws covering sweepstakes, so that there are special rules depending on where the entrant lives. The U.S. Federal Trade Commission exercises some authority over sweepstakes promotion and sweepstakes scams in the United States. Notably, sweepstakes in Canada and several European countries require entrants to solve an (elementary school level) mathematical puzzle or answer a (fairly simple) knowledge question, making it (in theory at least) a contest of skill, in order to overcome requirements that would classify sweepstakes as a form of gambling under their country's legal definition. There are similar laws in Brazil, usually requiring an answer to an easy "giveaway" question.
Sweepstakes in the United States
In the United States, sweepstake sponsors are very careful to disassociate themselves from any suggestion that players must pay to enter, or pay to win, as this would constitute gambling. Sweepstakes typically involve enticements to enter a consumer promotion with prizes that range from substantial wins such as cars or large sums of money to smaller prizes that are currently popular with consumers. There should be no monetary cost to the entrant (although some sweepstakes require entrants to subscribe to a promotional mailing list, potentially exposing the entrant to an increase in junk mail, spam email, or telemarketing calls) and sweepstakes winners should also not be required to pay any kind of fee to receive their prizes.
As an example of a state policy on sweepstakes promotions, Tennessee residents are prohibited by a policy of the Tennessee Alcoholic Beverage Commission (and not a state law) from entering sweepstakes online sponsored by manufacturers of wines and liquors; however, Tennessee residents may enter many of these same sweepstakes promotions by entries delivered by the U.S. Postal Service. Another example is that Tennessee state law prohibits sweepstakes agencies and sponsors from requiring sweepstakes prize winners to submit to "in perpetuity" publicity releases.
Most corporate-sponsored sweepstakes promoted in the United States limit entry to U.S. citizens, although some allow entry by legal residents of both the United States and Canada.
Among the most popularly known sweepstakes in the United States were the American Family Publishers Sweepstakes (now defunct), Publishers Clearing House and Reader's Digest Sweepstakes, each of which strongly persuaded entrants to purchase magazine subscriptions by placing stickers on contest entry cardstock while promising multimillion-dollar (annuity) winners who will be "announced on TV." The American Family Publishers sweepstakes used paid advertisements during NBC's The Tonight Show to announce its grand prize winners (for many years, its celebrity spokesman was Ed McMahon). All three companies eventually paid fines and penalties to a variety of states who initiated legal actions against them. Of those three companies only Publishers Clearing House continues to use sweepstakes as a promotional device, and as recently as 2010 paid $3.5 million to settle charges that it had violated the terms of a 2001 multi-state agreement for which it was fined $34 million.
Sweepstakes are frequently used by fast-food restaurants to boost business. One of the most popular has been the McDonald's Monopoly "instant-win" game-piece promotion (free game pieces[clarification needed] are made available on request through the U.S. mail). Soft drink companies also sponsor many sweepstakes, such as the Pepsi Billion Dollar Sweepstakes game and the Pepsi Stuff loyalty rewards program that allowed Pepsi drinkers to accumulate points from packages and cups and redeem them for merchandise. Pepsi Stuff was Pepsi's largest and most successful long-term promotion ever and it ran for many years in the US and in many countries around the world. Other sponsors may require the submission of a UPC of a company product (with provision for receiving a "free" UPC) for entry into the sweepstakes drawing.
Sweepstakes parlors, which began to appear in the U.S. around 2005, are establishments that offer chances to win cash prizes as a promotion for a product, usually either a telephone card or internet access.
Sweepstakes must be carefully planned to comply with local laws and curtail forms of entrant fraud and abuse. Before home computers were popular, a common method of entry was a mailed, plain 3" × 5" index card with the entrant's name and address. Massive computer-printed entries resulted in a new requirement that entries must be "hand-printed". Laser printers which can mimic ink pen writing are also a problem for sponsors. In most sweepstakes, entrants and their relatives must not be related to the sponsor or promoter.
Many state lotteries also run a second chance sweepstakes in conjunction with the retail sale of state lottery scratch cards in an effort to increase consumer demand for scratch cards and to help control the litter caused by the improper disposal of non-winning lottery tickets. As lottery tickets are considered to be bearer instruments under the Uniform Commercial Code, these lottery scratch card promotions can be entered with non-winning tickets that are picked up as litter.
Competitions in Australia
A trade promotion lottery is a free entry lottery conducted to promote goods or services supplied by a business. Unlike in the U.S., entrants may be required to purchase a product in order to enter a trade promotion in Australia.
No permits are required for competitions that do not involve an element of chance in determining the winner or winners. Common examples include competitions where entrants are required to submit a photo or an answer to a question in 25 words or less.
Many compers (those who enjoy entering competitions) attend annual national conventions. In 2012 over 100 people met on the Gold Coast, Queensland to discuss competitions.
Sweepstakes in the UK
Most sweepstakes in the UK are small-scale. They are classed as work lotteries, residents' lotteries or private society lotteries and do not require a licence, provided that all the money staked is paid out as prize money.
The popularity of the term "sweepstakes" may derive from the Irish Sweepstakes, which were very popular from the 1930s to the 1980s.
There is a tradition of office sweepstakes (known as office pools in the U.S.), which are usually based on major sporting events such as the Grand National and the World Cup. Entrants pay an equal stake for each horse/team they draw out of the hat before the event. The winner then takes the pot. For horse racing events, the pot may be split between the horses which come first, second and third.
What an American would call a "sweepstakes" (a random prize draw promoting a commercial product) is likely to be labelled as a "prize draw" in the UK. An American "contest", with the winner(s) decided on merit, would likely be labelled a "competition" in the UK.
Sweepstake in Colombia, South America
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General structure of US sweepstakes
Sweepstakes in the United States offering prizes valued at US$600 or more will typically follow the following schedule:
- Sponsor promotion
- Creating the sweepstakes promotion for a sponsor or sponsors;
- Advertising the sweepstakes, prize structure, and the official rules;
- Opening date for receiving entries;
- Closing date for receiving entries;
- Drawing date to judge winning entries.
- Winner notification
- Sweepstakes promotion judges contacting prize winner:
- Winner filing publicity release with sponsor's sweepstakes promotion agency;
- Winner filing affidavit of eligibility (compliance with official rules) with sponsor's sweepstakes promotion agency;
- Winner filling any required federal or state tax forms with sponsor's sweepstakes promotion agency;
- Winner receives prize
By law, the sponsors of sweepstakes must not require the prize winners to pay any shipping or handing charges in order to win or receive their prizes.
Sweepers frequently send out SASE (self addressed, stamped envelopes) to receive free game pieces, official entry forms, and copies of the official rules for a particular sweepstakes promotion.
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