Federal Sweepstakes and Contest Laws

In the United States, sweepstakes promotions are regulated by the Federal Trade Commission, the Federal Communications Commission, the United States Postal Service, and the United States Department of Justice. These organizations have come up with some nation-wide rules relating to sweepstakes and contests, like:

  • Winners are required to pay taxes on the prizes they win
  • Sponsors are required to issue a 1099 form to winners who receive a prize valued over $600
  • Firearms awarded as prizes must be transferred through a Federally Licensed Firearm Dealer

Additionally, the U.S. has strict laws barring private lotteries, so in order to be legal, sweepstakes and contests have to differentiate themselves from lotteries. A lottery is defined as a promotion that is offering prizes that have value, that has winners chosen at random, and that has an element of consideration. To avoid being classified as an illegal lottery in any state, at least one of these elements has to be missing.

The state of Hawaii forbids promoting a contest or sweepstakes in which some or all of the prizes may not be awarded and requires “Sellers of Travel” registration if the promotion prize includes travel.

Hawaii also does not allow offering a prize of real property unless the offeror files and maintains with the director of commerce and consumer affairs a bond in a sum not less than $10,000, executed by the offeror, and naming the director as the obligee and a surety company authorized to do business in the State as surety.

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Disclaimer: This information is not complete and only aims to display the most prominent state-specific deviation from Federal laws.