Monday, February 8, 2010

Q&A: What's the difference between a sweepstakes, an instant win and a contest?

A lot of people use the term "contest" (or sometimes "sweepstakes") as a catch-all for any online, rules governed promotion that is giving away prizes.  But there are really three main types of these promotions.  And knowing the differences is very important for knowing which ones to play.

Note we are excluding things like "giveaways" and coupon offers in which everybody who registers and meets the requirements gets something.  We are concentrating on the "many will enter, few will win" type promotions.


The game is a "contest" when it is based on some sort of skill rather than random chance.  These games usually have you submit something like an essay, a photograph, a video, etc. and then judges select the best entry or entries and they receive the prize or prizes.

These tend to allow one entry during the game.


Sweepstakes collect entries during a period of time, then perform a random drawing to determine the winner or winners.

These can vary in their entry frequencies, from "unlimited" to "daily" to "once" to even "once per period".

Instant Win

Instant wins, as the name implies, let you know whether you won immediately after playing.

Most instant wins "seed" winning times evenly throughout the period the game is running and generally the first person to play after that time wins.

Most instant wins tend to be daily entry although other variations exist.


As you can see, contests can be tough unless a) you are extremely good at the subject matter of the contest or b) you happen to know that there aren't very many entries (because you use

But keep your eye open for contests that might be tough to enter due to the complexity of the subject matter.  They often get very few entries and can be worth the effort.

Sweepstakes are tough for two reasons.  They tend to have more people vying for a small number of prizes, and you're totally at the mercy of who comes in after you.  You might find a sweepstakes that no one knows about and get your entry in without much competition, and then two days before the drawing, word gets out and an avalanche of entries comes in and buries yours.

That's the great thing about instant wins.  If you identify one that has good prizes and few people playing, you can cash in immediately. consistently has instant wins among the highest rated for this very reason.

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