Q: To help promote our agencys
Web site, we want to conduct one or more sweepstakes or contests.
Is it legal to conduct them online? Can we require that all contest
entries be done online, or must we allow technophobes to mail
entries to us? Can we require a purchase? Can we get free cruises
from a cruise line and give them away? Why do sweepstakes rules
always say, Void where prohibited by law?
No federal or state laws outlaw online sweepstakes by travel
agencies. Further, you can require that all contest entries be done
used to prohibit online-only sweepstakes, it recently changed its
policy to allow them, just as all other states do.
You cannot require
a purchase of any kind as a condition of being eligible to win, as
purchasing a chance to win would violate most states laws
prohibiting private lotteries and unlicensed gambling.
However, you can do
what the cereal companies cleverly do: put contest entry forms on
your product, such as your e-mailed invoice or itinerary, so that
only a purchaser would ordinarily find out about the
Then, in the fine
print, you need to add no purchase necessary, and you need to
explain how anyone can enter the contest without having bought
You can give away a
product or service, such as a cruise, as long as it has the value
that you say it has.
The Federal Trade
Commission has rules that prohibit advertising or publicizing a
free product or service unless you clearly and conspicuously
disclose at the outset all the terms, conditions and obligations of
So, if the cruise
is subject to blackout periods or is capacity controlled, you have
to say so up front.
Three states -- New
York, Florida, and Rhode Island -- have laws requiring you to
register the contest if you plan to allow their residents to
participate, and Florida and New York require you to post a
Since most smaller
contest sponsors, such as travel agencies, cannot afford to
register or get a bond, they simply exclude those states residents
by saying that the contest is void where prohibited by
In addition, some
states have laws that regulate contests in other ways.
Tennessee prohibits sponsors from requiring a publicity release,
and Illinois sets strict time limits on when winners must be
notified and prizes given out.
However, I see no
reason why you could not easily comply with all such laws. The most
important thing to remember is that each contestant needs to have
access to your contest rules, which need to be clear and
Legally, the rules
form a contract with the consumer, and you must obey the
For example, if you
say, one free cruise will be awarded, you cannot refrain from
giving the prize on the grounds that the cruise line decided not to
give your agency a free cruise, unless your rules allowed you to do
If you plan to
collect contest entrants e-mail addresses and the like for a
customer list, you need to limit entries to people 18 years or
older, as anti-child-pornography laws limit your right to collect
information on children online.
You can find a
checklist of contest rules for travel agency promotions at www.pestronk.com/contestrules.html.
is a Washington-based attorney specializing in travel law. He
answers your questions in the TravelWeekly.com Legal Ease forum. To contact Pestronk
directly, e-mail him at email@example.com.