While there are plenty of opportunities to enjoy casino and card games in venues stretching across the US, online sweepstakes are booming nationwide. However, before getting into sweepstakes, contests, and affiliated games, it’s always wise to check if you can legally take part.
Given that casino gaming and sweepstakes laws may be complex depending on the state you live and play in, preparation is key. What’s legal in New York may not be so rosy in New Hampshire. Generally speaking, you can take part in online sweepstakes poker games and other raffles provided your state legislation is flexible.
The short answer is yes; sweepstakes are generally legal across the US. But there are some exceptions to these rules depending on where you play, whether at an online casino or in-store at a retail location.
With that in mind, we’ve put together a guide to what you can expect from sweepstakes laws across the US. Is your state open to competition gaming? Keep reading for the answer.
Sweepstakes and contests in a nutshell
By “sweepstakes,” we refer to promotional games with prizes attached. Sweepstakes revolve around luck – you have a random chance of winning a prize, providing you enter.
Contests, meanwhile, depend on your skill, meaning you stand to win prizes if you perform well at specific games or in tournaments, for example.
The difference between sweepstakes, contests, and gambling is your money. For example, a legal sweepstakes in the US won’t ask you to invest any money of your own.
Sweepstakes can take place online, in stores, and you’ll even find some sweepstakes via mail, too.
Naturally, the law US-wide law goes a little deeper than the definition, so here’s a bit more detail.
The US’ general legal position on sweepstakes and contests
All US states demand that sweepstakes require “no purchase necessary,” as mentioned. However, these games must offer a free route of entry if there are money requests.
Contests are a little different. Providers can ask you to pay to enter them (as per general US laws), though this may vary depending on your state.
Beyond this, all winners of such contests will receive contact at their end, and all entrants will know the start and close dates thanks to clear terms and conditions.
Legal sweepstakes providers will also make it clear when winners will receive prizes, as well as how they stand to win.
This all seems fairly straightforward, but some states have additional rules you’ll need to remember before entering.
Make sure to verify the laws in your state before entering, but the following states follow the “basic” rules above with very little adjustment.:
- District of Columbia
- New Hampshire
- New Jersey
- New Mexico
- North Carolina
- South Carolina
- South Dakota
- West Virginia
Therefore, the vast majority of US states follow the standard sweepstakes rules. Let’s break down the details those states that demand a little extra.
In Colorado, you can’t pay to enter a sweepstakes or contest, but the general rules apply otherwise.
Florida demands that sweepstakes providers offer you a winners list, which you can request at any time. Providers should also register and bond prizes of greater than $5,000 a week before launch.
Like Colorado, you can’t pay to enter a contest or sweepstakes in Maryland. Again, like Colorado, the state follows the national rules otherwise.
Massachusetts gets a little specific in that you can’t enter or run sweepstakes revolving around tobacco and related products. Otherwise, national laws apply!
Michigan has slightly specific demands, too. Here, it’s illegal to enter a store in order to take part in sweepstakes or where you can win prizes randomly.
It’s illegal in Nebraska to run or enter either sweepstakes or contests by making a purchase. In fact, the law here extends to “other considerations” too. That means you can’t give anything to a sweeps provider in order to take part.
New York has similar bonding laws to Florida in that a provider must register their $5,000+ sweeps or contest within 30 days of the start of running. New York also demands that you have access to a full list of winners from sweepstakes – which is more to your benefit!
The rules in North Dakota are similar to those in Maryland and Colorado. If a provider asks you to pay to enter sweepstakes, it’s illegal.
Rhode Island has stricter registration laws than New York in that any retail-based prizes worth more than $500 require recording.
It’s illegal in Tennessee for any sweeps providers to demand you sign an “in perpetuity” clause when it comes to public releases – i.e., if you win!
A sweepstakes in Texas is officially illegal if you enter automatically by making a purchase and the prize is worth more than $50,000.
Vermont goes a little deeper than most states, so here’s what to keep in mind: you can’t enter any sweepstakes or contest in Vermont if you have to make a purchase, or provide a “consideration.”
This even applies if a provider asks you to pay for postage by return when you ask for postal details about a sweepstakes! Your rights seem better protected here than in most other states.
If you ever enter a store to take part in sweepstakes, it’s illegal in Virginia – this is a “consideration” regarding random choice. You’ll also find tobacco sweeps are illegal here, too.
As you can see, sweepstakes are generally legal across the US, albeit with a few stipulations here and there.
Sweepstakes offer you chances to win without needing to pay money, which is largely what differentiates them from gambling. Thankfully, there are many different sweepstakes casinos and online games catalogs that you can research before finding the perfect fit.
While many of the laws listed above apply to providers, there will always be expectations of you, the participant. So ensure you take steps to obey the law before getting started!