Abbreviated sweepstakes rules: Don’t give them short shrift

by Thompson Coburn LLP

You couldn’t live in the United States very long without at some point seeing abbreviated rules for a sweepstakes. They are usually found in the fine print at the bottom of an ad, sign, email message, bottle top, or banner, and almost always begin with the words “NO PURCHASE NECESSARY.” You may also hear them sputtered rapidly at the end of a radio contest ad.

Abbreviated rules are required by several states’ statutes. For example, Florida law requires that the sweepstakes “material terms” must be included in any advertising copy promoting the sweepstakes. “Material terms” in Florida has been identified as:

  • - Name of the operator and game promotion.
  • - Start and end dates for entering the promotion (including times, if applicable) consistent with the official rules.
  • - A list of who is eligible or not eligible to participate with respect to age or geographic location.
  • - Disclosure of where the promotion is void.
  • - A statement that no purchase is necessary to enter or play the game promotion.

There is also a federal law, the Deceptive Mail Prevention and Enforcement Act, which requires that any advertisement of a sweepstakes sent by mail must disclose the following in any solicitation material, the entry or order form, and in the official rules:

  • A statement that “no purchase is necessary.” This statement must be disclosed “clearly and conspicuously,” that is “presented in a manner that is readily noticeable, readable, and understandable to the group to whom the applicable matter is disseminated.
  • A statement that “a purchase will not improve one’s chances of winning.” This statement must also be clear and conspicuous.
  • A clear and conspicuous disclosure of the name of the sponsor or mailer and the principal place of business or contact address.
  • A clear and conspicuous disclosure of the location of the official rules and entry procedures

The main problem with abbreviated rules is that sometimes you don’t have the space in the ad, sign or bottle cap that allows you to include all of the information that would normally be disclosed. Reducing the size of the font used in the abbreviated rules is not a viable answer in most situations; most statutes require written rules to appear at a size that is “clear and conspicuous” in the ad.

One common solution is to abbreviate the standard language used in the rules. For example, “sweepstakes ends on June 31, 2014” is often reduced to “ends 6/31/14.” Here are the ways in which abbreviated rules often are reduced to accommodate the space or time restrictions of the particular media being used.

Original phrase

Common abbreviation



Must be a legal resident of the 50 United States or the District of Columbia

Legal resident of the U.S.

Sweepstakes begins at 11:59 p.m. EST on June 1, 2013 and ends at 12:00 p.m. EST on June 30, 2013

Sweepstakes begins on 6/1/13 and ends 6/30/13

To enter must be 18 years or older

At least 18

An option for television spots is to present the disclaimer printed on a screen during the commercial. However, it is often difficult for the text to be clear and conspicuous without sacrificing a considerable amount of time to the message.

When shortening abbreviated rules, you need to be aware of certain specific requirements contained in federal and state regulations, such as the Deceptive Mail Prevention and Enforcement Act, as well as state statutes such as Colorado’s Common Consumer Disclosure Requirements.

Knowing how much is enough when preparing abbreviated rules can be challenging. That is why you should consult an attorney experienced in this area of law before over-abbreviating abbreviated rules.


DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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