I have seen multiple examples of sweepstakes run in the US, where entrants have to do something to enter the sweepstakes and the sponsor gets some benefit (e.g. long mailing list, etc.), with Official Rules saying that the names of winners will be posted to a specific Web site, or available on request, but then they just aren't. It's not clear whether there is actually any winner selected or not. (Even when names are published, like "Jane D. from Minnesota," they're often unverifiably vague).

It seems that no individual, not even an entrant, would have standing to take action because nobody can prove they specifically would have won, nor can anybody prove that there was no winner, because of the sponsor's ability to limit access to information. It also seems like there is no regulator whose job it is to follow up on those things, who actually cares (because the harms to any individual are relatively low, and there are higher-priority issues).

At first glance, running a sweepstakes with no actual winner seems unethical, but from a practical perspective, what if any negative legal consequences could such a sponsor actually face for doing so, and how would that practically come about?

  • It's called fraud. Jail and fines are what happen. – Nij Jul 28 '19 at 23:35
  • @Nij Maybe in theory, but in practice? Who would or does find out and pursue any action, since only the sponsor knows if there was actually any winner or not? – WBT Jul 28 '19 at 23:40
  • Someone who works for the sponsor might blow the whistle; there can be rewards for doing things like that. So that's one way that the world might find out there wasn't actually any winner. The sponsor could be criminally prosecuted, as others have mentioned, or the entrants collectively could file a class-action lawsuit. – Nate Eldredge Jul 29 '19 at 5:44

Every state has a regulatory framework called laws and regulators called county and state attorneys. (Some states have special legal bodies specifically for gambling). There are specific laws concerning sweepstakes, raffles, real gambling (if allowed), horse racing, senior citizen's bingo parlors, you name it.

Running any game of chance with no intent of showing or awarding winner has legal consequences called fraud, at very least. It's in the law for each state.

Who prosecutes fraud? County and state attorneys. Bring the alleged fraudulent sweepstakes to their attention with a phone call or email. They will investigate and decide if there is sufficient evidence of fraud and if they can successfully prosecute.

Whether or not the full winner's name is published depends on state privacy laws and the contractual terms of the sweepstakes. Most sweepstakes offer that info, by law, to the public, when asked. Read the fine print of the sweepstakes.

  • Re last paragraph: The fine print of the sweepstakes might explicitly state how the information can be requested by the public, but the sponsor does not then always comply with that fine print (e.g. might just never respond to requests, or explicitly deny response citing winner privacy). – WBT Jul 29 '19 at 13:04
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    The sweepstakes terms will list the state regulatory authority; contact them with a complaint that the sweepstakes sponsor isn't complying. – BlueDogRanch Jul 29 '19 at 14:21
  • “Running any game of chance with no intent of showing or awarding winner has legal consequences called fraud, at very least. It's in the law for each state.” Rockstar Games disagrees, evidently, judging by the casino update that they added to GTA5 that gives you the opportunity to spend real money on digital slot machines with a 0% chance of you winning anything real. – nick012000 Aug 28 '19 at 6:01
  • @nick:: you're conflating two senses of 'real' You spend real money and gain real entertainment; the company doesn't promise a possible cash return, any more than when you buy a ticket to a sports game. – Tim Lymington Aug 28 '19 at 9:37

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