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Sweepstakes and contests: What’s the difference?

December 14, 2011

As a sweepstakes attorney, one of the most frequent questions I’m asked is, “What is the difference between a sweepstakes and a contest?” The short answer: Lots. One is the manner in which the winners are determined. In a sweepstakes, winners are selected solely by chance, usually through use of a random drawing. In a contest, the winners are determined based on the entrants’ abilities to meet some pre-determined criteria put into place before the contest begins.

Another difference is that sweepstakes usually don’t require entrants to do anything to enter, other than provide their contact information. Contest entrants, however, must do something that can be evaluated using contest criteria to determine who has won.

Sweepstakes and contests also differ because unless a sweepstakes is operated as a state-authorized lottery, entrants in a sweepstakes must be allowed to participate without having to pay any money, make a purchase, or do virtually anything other than mail in their name and address. In a contest, entrants have to take some type of action to participate, such as writing an essay, taking a photo, creating a video, singing a song, selling a product, etc. Also, contest entrants, unlike entrants in a sweepstakes, may be required to pay a fee to enter.

Dale Joerling is the chair of Thompson Coburn’s Advertising, Marketing and Promotion Law group. He is editorial director of the Sweepstakes Law Blog. You can reach Dale at (314) 552-6058 or djoerling@thompsoncoburn.com.