By definition, a sweepstakes is an advertising or promotional device by which items of value (prizes) are awarded to participating consumers by chance, with no purchase or entry fee required to win.

Unlike a sweepstakes, a lottery is a promotional device by which items of value (prizes) are awarded to members of the public by chance, but which requires some form of payment to participate. Lotteries are illegal, except when conducted by states and certain exempt charitable organizations. If you believe you have received a solicitation in the guise of a sweepstakes which is an illegal lottery, you should contact your local Post Office™ or state Attorney General’s consumer protection office.

Sweepstakes with large grand prizes tend to attract more entries regardless of the odds of winning. Therefore, the value of smaller prizes usually total much less than that of the top prize. Firms that rely on sweepstakes for attracting customers, such as Publishers Clearing House and Reader’s Digest, have also found that the more involved the entry process, the more entrants, in a similar way to casinos inventing games that appear to rely partly on skill.

If you have the winning entry and respond, you will get the prize. However, it pays to check the small print of the offer you receive. If the odds of winning a particular prize or award are “1:1,” that means that everyone who responds will get that award, which is an inexpensive item and, not the more valuable prize. Remember, many people participate but there may be only one top prize. Ordering will not improve your chance of winning.