What Is the Difference between a Lottery and a Sweepstakes?

There are so many times in our daily life that we are presented with chances to enter lotteries or contests of one type or another for a chance to win a bountiful grand prize. Think about every time you go to the grocery store or stop at a gas station. Usually, the first thing you see at the checkout counter is the abundance of lotteries, all taunting you with the chance of becoming a multi-millionaire. Even when you open the junk folder in your email, you’ll probably be welcomed with about a dozen different emails about contests to enter, and possibly even prizes you’ve already won. Although, you should probably not trust the latter, as they are usually spam emails meant for marketing purposes.

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We’ve all also seen the commercials for sweepstakes, which offer the same chance at becoming rich. But, what is the difference between the two? Although sweepstakes are typically defined as a type of lottery, the two are actually have a few differences.


The primary difference that sets a lottery apart from a sweepstakes is the requirement to purchase your chance at winning the prize, which is typically cash but can sometimes vary. The most popular lotteries are government sponsored, but they can be privately sponsored, as well.

The variety of tickets offered in one particular lottery is basically endless. This is because most lotteries offer you the choice of purchasing a ticket with random numbers chosen for you, or you can choose them yourself if you’re feeling especially lucky.

Most states that allow gambling have a wide variety of state-sponsored lotteries that they receive funds from. These can vary from instant-win or scratch-off tickets, which typically have a lower jackpot, to live broadcast drawings with multi-million dollar jackpots.


A sweepstakes, although similar to a lottery in the way prizes are doled out, does have one very predominant difference. Unlike lotteries, there is no purchase required to enter a sweepstakes.

For a sweepstakes to be valid, those who enter cannot be required to purchase their chance at winning. Similar to a lottery, the winners are randomly selected with no skill or any other requirements to be chosen. Essentially, it is won completely by chance. If a sweepstakes requires anything other than information to enter, like a purchase or donation, it’s most likely not a trustworthy organization.

To give you a better way to visualize it other than a state lottery or a Publisher’s Clearing House sweepstakes, think about a radio contest. In a post from answers.com, the writer gave a great example. “A good way to visualize the difference between a sweepstakes and [. . .] lottery is to imagine a radio station that is giving away a car. In a sweepstakes, the winner of the car is randomly drawn from everyone who has completed an entry form to win. In a lottery, listeners are given the opportunity to purchase a key, one of which starts the car. The winner is the person who purchases the key that starts the car.”

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