Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services

Game Promotions/Sweepstakes

Laws and Regulations

Florida Statutes
Section: 849.049

Florida Administrative Code
Chapter: 5J-14

A game promotion or sweepstakes is a promotional drawing in which prizes are given away; it's a marketing technique designed to encourage consumers to purchase a product or service. There are many legitimate sweepstakes offered in Florida. Prizes in legitimate contests are awarded solely by chance, and contestants don’t have to pay a fee or buy something to enter or increase their odds of winning.

Sweepstakes and Lottery Scams

Unfortunately, fraudulent sweepstakes and lottery promotions have become commonplace in recent years. In fraudulent schemes, "winners" almost always have to pay to enter a contest or collect their "prize."

The scam typically starts when you receive a letter stating that you have won a foreign lottery or sweepstakes, along with a cashier’s check. The letter indicates that the check is to be used to cover any taxes and fees that are associated with claiming your prize money. All you have to do is deposit the check in your bank account and wire a portion of the money back to cover the taxes and fees on your winnings. You deposit the check and wire the money only to discover that the check is fraudulent.

FDACS Regulates Sweepstakes in Florida

Sweepstakes offering prizes totaling more than $5,000 must file with the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS) seven days prior to commencement. Even sweepstakes based in other states must be filed if they are conducted in Florida and/or are open to Florida residents and have prizes valued at more than $5,000.

In addition, a surety bond or statement of trust is required from the operator unless they have conducted sweepstakes in Florida for at least five consecutive years and they have had no civil, criminal or administrative actions instituted against them for a violation of section 849.049, Florida Statutes during that five-year period. This protects consumers who participate by ensuring compensation if the game operator is unable to award the prizes offered in the promotion.

The material terms of the rules must be published in all advertising copy. Full rules must be conspicuously posted in all outlets. In addition, game operators must give, at no charge, a list of winners to those who request it.

What Makes a Sweepstakes Unlawful?

  • Failing to timely file with FDACS, if required, and post the required security.
  • Manipulating the game so that winners are predetermined.
  • Manipulating the promotion so that winners are determined during a particular time period or geographic area.
  • Arbitrarily removing, disqualifying, disallowing or rejecting entries.
  • Failing to award prizes.
  • Printing or circulating false, deceptive or misleading sweepstakes literature.
  • Requiring an entry fee, payment, or proof of purchase to enter.

Protect Yourself from Sweepstakes Scams

Before entering a game promotion or sweepstakes, do some research. To find out if a game promotion is filed properly with FDACS or to obtain additional information, use our Business/Complaint Lookup or call 1-800-HELP-FLA (435-7352). 

In addition, follow these tips to avoid fraudulent sweepstakes:

  • Remember, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Scams play on the hopes of those who believe they can get something for nothing.
  • Always read the rules carefully. If you can't find, read or understand the rules, think again about entering.
  • Never pay money to receive money. No purchase or entry fee is required in legitimate sweepstakes. Legitimate sweepstakes also don’t require you to pay shipping or handling fees, insurance or taxes to collect your prize. If you have to pay, you haven’t won anything.
  • Hold on to your money. Scammers frequently pressure people to wire money through commercial money transfer companies because wiring money is the same as sending cash. Likewise, resist any push to send a check or money order by overnight delivery or courier. Scammers recommend these services so they can get your money before you realize you’ve been cheated.
  • Make sure you know the company that's offering the sweepstakes. Disreputable companies sometimes use a variation of an official or nationally recognized name to try to confuse you and give you confidence in their offers.
  • Beware of calling a toll-free number to claim a prize. You may be asked to pay a prize-processing fee or buy a product. Keep in mind, phone numbers can be deceptive. Some scammers use internet technology to disguise their area code. Although it may appear they are calling from inside the United States, they could be calling from anywhere in the world.
  • Don't be deceived by official-looking mail. It is unlawful for a promoter to lie about an affiliation with or endorsement by a government agency or any other well-known organization.
  • Never enter any foreign lotteries. If you play a foreign lottery through the mail or over the phone, you are violating federal law.

File a Complaint

To file a complaint about a game promotion or sweepstakes, use our online form or call 1-800-HELP-FLA (435-7352).

Penalties for Game Promoters Who Violate the Law

A violation of the game promotion law can result in a civil penalty of up to $1,000 per violation, an injunction and, in some cases if appropriate, referral for criminal prosecution. In addition, a violation may constitute a deceptive and unfair trade practice actionable under the Florida Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices Act. The law does not provide for restitution if a consumer has paid money to the operator.