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Has anyone actually won a sweepstakes?

Sweepstakes and contests offering prizes like vacations, cars, or large sums of money are popular ways for companies to market their brands and generate leads. The allure of winning something valuable for free is enticing. But has anyone actually won these grand prizes? Let’s take a look at some key questions around sweepstakes and contest wins.

Are sweepstakes real?

Yes, sweepstakes are real contests where entrants can win prizes by pure luck rather than skill. There are laws that regulate sweepstakes and require them to be real opportunities open to the public with fair winning odds. Major national sweepstakes are required to have permits and adhere to truth-in-advertising laws about offering real prizes.

Do people really win sweepstakes?

Yes, real people do win major prizes from national sweepstakes on a regular basis. But your odds as an individual are low. Sweepstakes sponsors usually receive millions of entries but are only giving away a few big prizes. Your chances of winning vary by the number of entries received. Some smaller local contests receive fewer entries and have better odds.

What are some examples of major sweepstakes prizes won?

Here are a few examples of valuable prizes won in national sweepstakes over the years:

– In 2014, a Florida woman won the HGTV Dream Home sweepstakes prize valued at over $1.5 million.

– In 2013, an Oregon man won a Publishers Clearing House sweepstakes and received $5,000 per week for life, totaling an estimated $15 million.

– In 2009, a Minnesota woman won a Oprah’s ‘Favorite Things’ sweepstakes package that included a Ford Fusion hybrid for a total prize of $136,000.

– In 2008, a Texas woman won the McDonald’s Monopoly sweepstakes for a total prize of $1 million.

What are the odds of winning a major sweepstakes prize?

Your odds depend on the number of entries, but are generally very low for major national sweepstakes. Some sample odds include:

– McDonald’s Monopoly: 1 in 602,490,060 (to win top $1 million prize)

– Oprah Winfrey Favorite Things: 1 in 396,000 (prize package valued at $136k)

– HGTV Dream Home: 1 in 95,186,020 (grand prize home valued at $1.5 million+)

– Publishers Clearing House: 1 in 10,000,000+ (for $5,000 per week for life grand prize)

As you can see, while major prizes are given away, your odds as an individual entrant are slim. But someone has to win, and some people do get incredibly lucky.

Tips for Actually Winning Sweepstakes

Very few people will win large national sweepstakes, but here are some tips that can slightly improve your odds:

Enter smaller local sweepstakes

Instead of national sweepstakes, enter smaller contests by local businesses. These have fewer entries so your odds improve. Follow local companies on social media or check community bulletin boards to find local contests.

Read the rules thoroughly

Make sure you follow all instructions carefully. Submitting an invalid entry can get you disqualified. Also look for ways to get extra entries, like referring friends or submitting multiple times.

Stay away from “Pay to Enter” contests

Avoid sweepstakes that require you to purchase something or pay an entry fee. Those are illegal contest schemes and not worth it. Enter legit sweepstakes for free.

Enter daily for recurring sweepstakes

Many sweepstakes sponsor new contests regularly. Enter daily or weekly to increase your lifetime odds. Set reminders to build entry into your routine.

Create multiple entries

Carefully read rules on the number of entries allowed per person. Submit the maximum entries in your name and any household members’ names if permitted.

What to Watch Out For

While most sweepstakes are legit, there are some red flags to watch out for:

Avoid “guaranteed winner” language

No sweepstakes can legally guarantee you will win or guarantee certain prizes to entrants. That verges on fraud. Legit sweepstakes always make clear no purchase or entry fee improves your odds.

Don’t pay an entry fee

As mentioned before, having to pay money to enter a sweepstakes makes it illegal. You should not have to pay anything beyond postage in some cases. Free sweepstakes entry is the norm.

Look out for poor prize disclosures

If a sweepstakes is vague about prize details, odds, and total number of winners, that could indicate a scam. Legit contests are very upfront about the full prize offering.

Avoid “You’re a Winner” claims

Real sweepstakes never notify major winners publicly or through mass communication methods. If you get a call, email, or mailer claiming you won, it’s always a scam trying to take your money or data.

Watch for prize/entry mismatches

When the promised sweepstakes prize seems disproportionately high compared to the method of entry, it is likely a scam. Legit contests will have entry methods and barriers matched to major prizes.

Realistic Expectations for Winning

While sweepstakes winners do exist, it’s important to keep your expectations realistic:

Odds are low for major prizes

The odds of winning a major cash or car prize in a well-known national sweepstakes are extremely low, usually hundreds of thousands to millions against you. Don’t get caught up in the hype.

Smaller local contests offer better odds

Focus your energy on entering smaller contests run by local businesses instead. Your odds improve drastically when the pool of entrants is smaller.

Enter for the entertainment value

Don’t look at entering sweepstakes as a way to gain income or a “get rich quick” scheme. The tiny odds make it unlikely to win big. Enjoy smaller prizes and view entering as a bit of entertainment.

Practice responsible entry habits

Take care to avoid scam contests, read all rules carefully, and never pay money to enter or improve odds. Only spend minimal time entering quality sweepstakes for free for enjoyment without unrealistic expectations.

Sweepstakes Winners: Real Examples

Here are some true stories of past winners that show real people do sometimes beat the long odds and win big:

Paralegal Wins $188 Million Powerball

In 2013, a West Virginia paralegal won a $188 million Powerball prize. The odds of matching all five white balls and Powerball number were 1 in 175 million. But the woman’s two lucky Powerball tickets hit the jackpot. She chose a $131 million lump sum payment.

Underage Teen Wins $50,000 Trip

In 2017, a 17-year-old in Florida entered a Deerfield Beach fishing contest using his dad’s name. He won the random drawing grand prize of a $50,000 deep sea fishing vacation to Costa Rica. Once the teen’s age was discovered, the prize was awarded to his father.

Woman Wins Two Lottery Jackpots

In 2010, an Australian woman defied 1 in 1.8 septillion odds by winning major lottery prizes twice in just two weeks. She won $550,000 in her country’s national lottery game, then hit a $750,000 jackpot in a scratch-off ticket game.

Man Wins The Same Prize Twice

In 2015, a South Carolina man randomly won a $500,000 prize on a scratch-off ticket. A few months later, he decided to try that scratch-off game again and incredibly won another $500,000 top prize. His long-shot odds of back-to-back wins were 1 in 50 million.

Unclaimed Prize Winners

While most major sweepstakes winners do come forward to claim their prizes, some prizes do go unclaimed:

Reasons Prizes Go Unclaimed

There are a few key reasons winning sweepstakes prizes can go unclaimed:

– Entrant Doesn’t Realize They Won: They may misplace the winning notification, forget they entered, or not realize an entry qualified.

– Fear of Publicity: Winners of big prizes often have to do press events and publicity. Some people avoid claiming to sidestep this.

– Can’t Verify Identity: If the entry has insufficient contact info and winners can’t confirm their identify, they can’t claim the prize.

– Don’t Want Tax Burden: For large cash prizes, winners face big income tax bills they may want to avoid by not claiming.

What Happens to Unclaimed Prizes

Rules vary by state, but unclaimed major sweepstakes prizes typically get returned to the sponsoring brand. The funds can then be used to sponsor future contests and drawings.

Major Unclaimed Prizes

Here are a few notable unclaimed sweepstakes prizes over the past decade:

– $14.3 Million Hoosier Lottery Jackpot Unclaimed in Indiana in 2002

– $1 Million Powerball Prize Unclaimed in 2003 in Rhode Island

– $77 Million Powerball Jackpot Went Unclaimed in Georgia in 2011

– $1 Million Mega Millions Prize Unclaimed in New York in 2006

Tax Implications

One downside to winning big sweepstakes prizes is having to pay taxes. Here’s what you need to know:

Cash Prizes Are Taxed as Income

For any cash prize over $600, the sponsor will issue a W2-G form detailing the value for tax purposes. Winners have to claim the full amount as “Other Income” on their tax return.

Prizes Over $5,000 Have Automatic Federal Tax Withholding

There may also be state tax withholding. Sponsors will withhold 24% for federal tax and applicable state taxes on any cash prize over $5,000 before disbursal. But winners owe taxes on the full amount.

Winners Are Responsible for Paying Full Tax

Withholding only partially covers owed taxes. Winners must pay federal income tax up to 37% of prize value, plus any applicable state taxes. This reduces the real cash value.

Gifts and Prizes Also Apply

For non-cash prizes like cars, vacations, or other gifts, the fair market value is also considered taxable income. Appropriate local taxes apply.

Some Taxes Can Be Avoided on Charity

If sweepstakes winnings are immediately and directly donated to charity, they can avoid some tax liability. But charitable intent has to be fully documented.

Estimated Taxes on Sample Prize Amounts
Prize Value Estimated Federal Tax (37%) Estimated State Tax (5%) Total Tax After-Tax “Take Home” Value
$10,000 $3,700 $500 $4,200 $5,800
$50,000 $18,500 $2,500 $21,000 $29,000
$150,000 $55,500 $7,500 $63,000 $87,000

As shown, large chunks go to taxes. But consult a tax expert for your specific situation.

Biggest Mistakes People Make

Avoid these common mistakes to make sure you don’t miss out on sweepstakes prizes:

Not Reading the Rules Carefully

Make sure to read all rules, terms and FAQs thoroughly so you avoid any disqualifications. Look for how to get extra entries.

Forgetting to Keep Track of Entries

Don’t rely on memory alone. Keep a spreadsheet of all sweepstakes you entered with entry details. So you remember to claim prizes.

Not Checking Accounts or Email for Notifications

Winners are often notified by email or accounts used to enter. Keep checking, even spam folders, in case you win. Follow sponsor’s social accounts for winning announcements.

Failing to Meet Eligibility Requirements

Make sure you review residency, age, and other requirements carefully so you qualify to win. Legal U.S. resident status is frequently required.

Missing Deadlines to Enter or Claim Prizes

Carefully note any entry or prize claim deadlines and mark your calendar so you don’t miss out by being late.

Getting Scammed by Fake Contests

Vet contests carefully and never pay any entry fees or give out financial data. Report anything suspicious to contest sponsor, attorneys general, and the FTC.

Maximizing Your Odds

While winning is a long shot, here are tips to help maximize your chances:

Search for Sponsor’s Past Winners

Find news of past winners on sponsor’s website and social media. Legit long-running contests should have real winners advertised.

Read Reviews and Complaint Boards

Search for customer reviews online and check scam reporting boards to identify sketchy contests to avoid. Stick to reputable national brands and government lotteries.

Enter Contests with More Prizes

Choose sweepstakes offering multiple lower-tier prizes, rather than just one big prize. More prize opportunities equal more chances.

Do Extra Steps for More Entries

Take advantage of any allowed ways to get additional entries, like liking social posts, referring friends, doing surveys, etc.


Sweepstakes exist and people do win life-changing prizes, even if the odds are extremely long that you will win. Make sure to enter carefully, never pay to enter, don’t fall for scams, keep track of entries, and stay realistic. Focus on having fun with smaller local contests versus becoming obsessed with winning big national jackpots. With luck and persistence, entering the right sweepstakes could pay off hugely, but don’t quit your day job!