Is your office sweepstake legal?

Is your office sweepstake legal?

Later today the country will be fizzing with nervous expectation. Forget the England v Uruguay match, Joan in Accounts drew Côte d’Ivoire in the office sweepstake 2 weeks ago.

Will the Ivorian eleven beat Columbia? Or will Los Cafeteros from Bogotà triumph over Les Éléphants from Abidjan?


To be fair, this is the least of the everybody’s concerns. The key question is …

… did anybody in Accounts consider whether the sweepstake was set up legally in the first place?

Running an illegal sweepstake could result in up to 51 weeks in prison and a fine of up to £5,000 under section 263 of the Gambling Act 2005. To put this fine in a footballing context, this amounts to about 0.02% of Christiano Ronaldo’s annual salary or what Wayne Rooney could earn in just under 3 hours.

Who’d have thought that plunging your hand into a hat and drawing out bits of scrappy paper with random flags and clip-art footballs badly photocopied onto them could be illegal?

Well, it can be but it doesn’t need to be.

(Anecdotally, I suspect that most office sweepstakes will be legal. It is not as though the news wires are buzzing with tales of hundreds office workers being led to the clink with their Tupperware lunch boxes in tow.)

So, what is a lottery?

The Gambling Commission states that a lottery is where:

  • you have to pay to enter
  • there is at least one prize, and
  • prizes are allocated by chance.

Don’t forget that just because it is called a raffle or a sweepstake doesn’t mean that it isn’t a lottery. You can call it whatever you want or chuck in as many disclaimers as you like (‘this sweepstake is not a lottery’) but this won’t hoodwink the authorities if anything goes wrong.

What do you need to know if you are running a sweepstake at work?

Firstly, no profits may be made.

Secondly, everything should be paid out as prizes less any reasonable administrative expenses. This means that the ‘at work exemption’  cannot be used for any charitable fundraising.

Thirdly, the sweepstake must be on one premises only and any advertisements for the lottery must be on and for that location only.  If your business has offices in, say, Plymouth and Norwich then the sweepstake cannot be run across both sites. In the words of the Gambling Commission:

The Commission is of the view that the wording ‘single set of premises’ was designed to include the situation where there might be multiple buildings on a single site, such as a hospital site or the many buildings which may exist within larger corporations. The term does not include multiple sites; for example a company with premises in more than one area would not be able to sell tickets for a single private lottery covering all of the sites.

If your sweepstake is for charity, there are also specific rules for the exemption known as the ‘incidental non-commercial lottery’. More details on this and the law generally can be found by clicking here.

What do I do next?

Buy some beers, barbeque some burgers and settle in front of the TV. There’s a few matches on don’t you know.

PS Talking of the sporting events, don't forget to consider the law on ambush marketing if you are looking to market during, say, the Commonwealth Games (see our post: From the Winter Olympics to the Commonwealth Games: how to avoid the pitfalls of ambush marketing). Equally, recent guidance from CAP about advertising during the World Cup may also be of interest: 'Ref'erencing the Football?

PPS If you haven’t started a sweepstake yet, you could do no worse than to use these nifty sweepstake cards designed by Splinter:

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