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When is a GAME a SCAM?

©06 The Media Desk
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[NOTE: No disrespect or disparagement of REAL games of chance or promotional efforts is intended. This article is meant as an informational treatment of the subject only and should be taken as such. thank you ]

      We've all seen them- "Scratch Off" games to win fabulous prizes. You get them with fast food meals or buy them at the lottery counter at the convenience store. They come in cereal boxes and loaves of bread. Sometimes a huckster at the fair will be passing them out to promote a booth selling spas or a travel club. The Desk even got one on an airplane one time for a chance to win thousands of frequent flier miles--- it didn't.
      The primary difference in your odds of winning anything seems to depend on whether or not you actually spent any money to play. If it is a 'free game' where you don't directly buy a product or a game piece the odds are usually fairly long. Sometimes they're astronomical. Sometimes they are.... well, we'll come to that later. If it is a lottery game or other direct purchase ticket, they can be as low as one winner in three or four tickets. If it's a charity sweepstakes for a local outfit, you can actually stack the odds in your favor by purchasing a bunch of tickets, "one for two, three for five, an arm's length for ten".

      For this article we'll look in depth at a promotional game by a major corporation and an ongoing State Lottery and a monkey.... you'll see.... and those that actually have to give stuff away to stay out of jail.

      Promotional Game Background: Verizon Information Services, the soon to be spun-off Phone Book division of the telecommunications giant, ran a promotional game in the 2006 editions. The promotion came stuck inside phone books on game cards with a big yellow truck on one side and the statement:
"Instantly Win $3 Million* Or win one of sixty-four 2006 Hummer® H3s or thousands of other prizes. Look on the back of this game piece to play!"

      Under the picture of the truck is the usual fine print "No purchase necessary. Void where prohibited. Game ends 4-30-07 or while supplies last." And so on.

      The game consists of scratching off 'latex boxes' to reveal the answers to various questions. There is no skill or research to find the correct answer to any question even though the game tells you to "Refer to the Tips bar located on each page" of various sections of the phone book.
      In this game you have no choice in the matter as the boxes are unlabeled. You pick one at random and scratch a single box. Then you get to look through the book to decide if your answer was right. THEN you scratch the next box in hopes of getting the next one right.
      One right answer wins you an entry to the chance to win the big prize. Two correct draws twenty five dollars. Three wins a truck. All four correct will win the three millions dollars.

      On the back of the piece is another fine print statement under the H3. "Only a limited number of game pieces are instant winners."

      And thereby comes the rub with all of these things.

      The Desk had access to a dozen of the phone book game pieces since its day job gets hundreds of books. Some game cards were scratched by co-workers, others by Mrs. Desk.
      Upon examination and the removal of all the boxes, exactly NONE would have won anything no matter which box you had picked. The first set of boxes ALL had the correct answer under the paint so everybody got one right. The other three sets off boxes were all concealing WRONG answers. None of them would have won the twenty five dollars. See example below.
      On the game piece it tells you to go to for more information. It's a good thing it puts the /rules at the end of the web address. Their home page has NOTHING about the game on it. The /rules address leaves and goes to

      Makes you go "hhhhmmmmm" doesn't it?

      This of course is nothing new. Well, the redirection on the web address is, but the game idea isn't.

      State Lottery games are well known for printing non-winning tickets. According to the (this time we'll pick on the Illinois State Lottery for no particular reason)

"Approximate overall odds of winning (including break-even prizes) are 1 in 4.24."
For One Dollar games and...
"Approximate overall odds of winning (including break-even prizes) are 1 in 3.66." For Ten Dollar Casino games where you can "WIN UP TO 20 TIMES!" on one ticket. In the Ten Dollar 'Jackpot' game were a little better at 1 in 2.99.

      According to the Superbook site dealing with the 'Hummer' game

"Ten Thousand (10,000) Instant $25 Spending Sprees to spend at display advertisers in the Verizon Yellow Pages from Verizon Directories Corp. available for game pieces with two (2) correct answers. Odds of receiving a prize winning game piece 1:1,000. Odds of removing the correct combination of answers - 1 in 16."

      One of the 'games' that got exposed for the quasi-scam they really are was the 'You want fries with that?' places version of the famous 'real estate trading game' based on Atlantic City Streets first published during the Depression. [Names removed at insistence of the Desk's Paralegal's Bartender's Cousin's Landscaper].
      In the fast food giant's game scandal, winning game pieces were re-routed from the game distribution network to family and friends of various officials in the production company. There was an investigation and various charges brought against the scheme's principals. But the promotion and participation in the game didn't even miss a beat.
      Truth be told, all the scandal proved was that games like the one involved are so heavily rigged against anyone winning a major prize that the fact that several prizes were actually claimed brought the fraud to light.

      Witness the great soda-pop "Billion Dollar" give-away in 2003 and '04, and a possible follow-up in 2007 or maybe sooner. See the article the bottle cap shell game
      In that game, a chimpanzee picked supposedly random numbers which would give a single person the "greatest cash prize of all time". Well, guess what? The company has yet to sign a check.
      In actuality the 'big winner' was to receive the proceeds from a long term annuity with the potential market value of One Billion US Dollars. The winner would NOT receive the billion in cash, also, they might also be given the option to take a buy out for a significantly smaller amount.
      Again. The game was set up to NOT give the largest prizes away. But thousands upon thousands of people played anyway. Collecting their bottle caps and checking their numbers.
      And people buy lottery tickets with one eye on a 'dream'. But we'll get back to that.

      And people buy chances at "fifty-fifty" drawings and raffle tickets for charity... but there is a difference.
      With the charity drawing, or most small business's grand opening give away gimmicks, they MUST Award 'The Prize', or the State's Attorney might want to look through your garbage with a conspiracy to commit fraud warrant in his back pocket. In fact, most local efforts like this say somewhere in the fine print (or it is understood by a handshake) that "All prizes will be awarded. If any prize is left unclaimed after thirty days another name will be drawn." Or something to that effect.
      Evidently this rule does not apply to things like State Lotteries, 'You want fries with that' games, and monkeys giving away more than the Gross National Product of most African countries. Not all prizes in the Illinois Lottery will be awarded, after one year any unawarded (instant games only) or unclaimed (all games) prizes will revert to the State. The soda pop people will probably never sign a check. And the fast food place will keep most of their loot.
      That's just the way it is.

      Now. Is it a SCAM?

      Well that depends.
      Does participation actually cost you anything directly out of your pocket?
      We could answer this by saying that manufacturer games, such as the soda pop game, do directly cost the consumer money because the cost of the game (promotion, prizes, postage etc) comes out of the bottom line of the company, and therefore it comes out of the pocket of their customers. But that's picking at nits on the monkey.
      Did you pony up a dollar to participate in the ape's game? NO. The ticket was 'free' (given the above built in costs). Maybe you can get a free game piece by contacting the manufacturer or maybe not, but you didn't directly purchase the ticket like you would a ticket from the Illinois Lottery.
      THEREFORE: The Billionaire Ape Game is NOT a SCAM.

      The Phone Book game didn't cost anything. If it had, we would not have a picture of any of their game cards to examine. A NON-Winner we might add.
      Even if the phone company NEVER gives away ANYTHING it too, is NOT a SCAM. As there was no 'price to pay to play', like the actual cost of putting a quarter in a slot machine.

      Is the Illinois Lottery (and by extension all other state lotteries) a SCAM?
      Well, some would say it is because your odds of winning can be vanishingly small, but NO. You buy a ticket KNOWING those odds, and even then, some people do win some prizes.
      If NOBODY ever won, it would be a scam. Or if they sold you a ticket without the odds on the big chart next to the register or on the back of the ticket or wherever, then it could be as well. You know you are more likely to be kidnapped by Elvis impersonating aliens or struck by lightning than you are to hit the lottery for a million dollars, but there is still a real chance you will... One in three million that is.
      And even then, once out of every four or five instant tickets you buy will probably win you a free ticket... Just enough hope to keep you playing. Again- like the slot machines in Vegas.

      The only time one of these things is really and truly a SCAM is when it costs you real money out of your pocket and you get NOTHING in return with no realistic hope of EVER getting anything because the Big Prize simply does not exist as in cases of game fraud.
      Which is something the people with the "Prize Patrol" keep dodging through various sleight of hand tricks with their contest. Eventually they may have to actually give away Something, but exactly when that will be we may never know.
      But then again.... you don't actually have to BUY a ticket to play their game do you? You're buying a magazine, which you DO get. And for which you get the renewal bill next year too. Therefore, that too is NOT a scam.

      Face it.
      They are all Games of Chance and the Desk will bet stale doughnuts against all the light bulbs on the marques in Las Vegas that the odds are stacked against You winning Anything.

      Of course right. Now pardon me... time to buy another lottery ticket.

Image below just for giggles.
No infringement on their Copyright is intended.

[NOTE: all outside entities, including the Illinois Lottery, Verizon and all other associated names and identifying marks are registered trademarks of their respective owners. The Desk is not affiliated in any way with any of them. It is distributed solely as an informative article on the subject. Thank you ]

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