Sweepstaking: A Journey Down the Rabbit Hole

A few weeks back, I was doing random internet surfing when I bumped up against a video that piqued my interest. It was a preview of a reality show TLC ran in 2011 about high stakes “sweepers.” These are people who invest hours on end entering giveaways (sweepstakes contests) to win all kinds of prizes and money. The thing I found most interesting is that, at the very beginning of the video, a clip of one sweeper refers to sweepstakes as “contest crack.” Really? What could possibly be so addictive about contests? No one wins these things anyways… right?

When I think of sweepstakes, I think of the lottery or PCH (Publishers Clearing House). Did you know the odds of winning the Powerball jackpot are 1 in 175,223,510? This past October, the Megamillions lottery revamped their process to increase the odds of winning the jackpot from 1 in 176 million to 1 in 259 million. Meanwhile, Publishers Clearing House has started bombarding us with “early” looks for the winner of $1,000,000 a year for life, $5,000 a week for life and, most recently, $2 million plus $10,000 a month and a new car from Lincoln. Sounds great… until you read the fine print. PCH is played in the US, UK and Canada. That’s a lot of people to compete against and, like the lotteries, there is no guarantee someone will win the grand prize. These factors combine to give PCH the worst odds of all. Odds for the current giveaway with that new Lincoln MKZ are 1 in 1.3 billion. Yes, I wrote billion with a “B.”

How can one get addicted when there’s no opportunity to win? Somewhere, there has to be contests that are winnable. Curious, I tried to find more information on the official TLC site. Unfortunately, they seem to have erased most of the info on there except the preview video.

However, I did find full versions of the series on YouTube. While I didn’t find the shows as interesting as I thought (this is probably one of many reasons why the series doesn’t make it past its initial introduction in 2011), I was particularly intrigued by one story – that of extreme sweeper Ron of Covington, Ohio who made sweepstaking a fulltime job. I figured, if he can turn this into a full-time job, there has to be more to it than luck. So down the rabbit hole I went.

 

Once I started looking on my own, I discovered there are thousands of giveaways out there on any given day. More importantly, hundreds of them are extremely winnable with odds as low as 1 in 6 or, at most, 1 in 600. On average, the contests I entered had odds of 1 in 100. That’s certainly more viable than 1 in 1.5 billion. I found the best odds on blogging sites where the blogger is given a product to review and at least one more of the product to give away.

At first I dabbled with a couple of blog contests, wondering if they were legitimate. I found one for children’s vitamins with odds that were only 1 in 14 and – I won. I promptly got an email from the woman who runs the blog requesting my name and address for her to give to the company. Was it safe to pass on that information? Would I be bombarded with junk mail? Would a thief come to my door? Would the prize arrive? I handed out my info trepidatiously. The next day, I received an email from a company representative. She wanted to know which vitamins to ship. Sure enough, a few days later a box with vitamin bottles was waiting for me in the mail. Retail value ~ $45.

Once I tasted success, I decided to commit a little bit and diligently return to one specific contest (for Bluetooth speakers) while I continued to explore different blogs to see what kind of prizes were out there. Day after day, I made certain to return to the speaker contest and complete any “daily entry” options. These increased my overall entries. When the contest ended, I received an email informing me that I won. This was from the same blog where I received the vitamins. No judgment; no limitations – just the same congratulatory email this time asking me to let her know which color to have the company ship. Only 3 days later I received my new speeCup speakers. Woohoo! Now I was getting somewhere. Retail value = $130.

Now I was getting the hang of it but I was still spread out. There were contests to win items for pets. Then there were other contests for children’s prizes – great big swing sets and other outdoors play items. Add to that it was May (Mother’s Day in the USA) and all the mommy’s swag bag giveaways. I entered one contest and, to get an extra entry, they wanted me to enter another giveaway on their site or on a co-host site. I started to follow the tendrils that wrapped through all the different blogs and found myself lost in the milieu of entry forms. My inbox was filled with blog updates and I just filed them, unable to keep up. I wondered if notices of winning were getting lost. In horror, I slogged through Archives checking to make certain I hadn’t missed a notice. If you don’t respond in a set amount of time, they’ll give the prize to someone else. And then…

I won again! This time, it was a coffee giveaway. Hey, a free bag of Joe? I’ll take it. But now I was lusting for a big win… something of value, more than something I stumbled across, more than something I wanted. I was out for something I *needed* which is when I discovered a Mother’s Day giveaway that was spanning the Twitterverse and much of the Mommy Blogosphere – #SprintMom.

Just 12 hours earlier I had been in a Sprint store, cheapskate that I am, looking to see just how much it would cost me to get a new phone if I was on a Framily plan at $25 a month. My old LG Optimus V with Virgin mobile wasn’t just outdated (having already received it refurbished), it was giving off death rattles. I had started using it to do work while away from home, but it wasn’t designed to keep up with the latest movings and shakings of the mobile world. Still, my bill would increase at least $20 a month if I bit the bullet and… {gag}… if I went for what I wanted most, a Samsung Note 3, I would be paying $650 for a phone over 2 years. The tightwad in me choked.  If I could just score a phone on the cheap, the month-to-month would be affordable or, if I could get a Sprint phone, less expensive than my current plan. Unfortunately, my stupid roommate traded in his phone for a measly $60 (even though I said I would buy it – most things are an upgrade at this point). Did he not realize those were selling on eBay for a bare minimum of $150??? The store would refurbish it and sell it for the same. I put out feelers with my brother and friends. “Before you upgrade, let me buy your phone.” I even offered to trade my new speeCup, still in the box, for a used phone.

The universe answered back by leading me to a contest to win a new HTC One Max from Sprint. As I followed the instructions and diligently tweeted to get my extra entry, I noticed… there’s someone else tweeting… and this contest was a different website. Hmm… I followed the link. There was that hashtag… SprintMom. Could there be more? Suddenly I am swirling through the Twitterverse. Crap! Stupid thing doesn’t seem to show much of a trend here… Now I am Googling. Wait. Is that a service that follows Twitter tags? Jackpot! Now I have a list of 20 websites. Unfortunately, some contests are already closed with winners posted (2 or 3 days to enter? That’s insane!) but there are another 8 or 10. I entered everyone of them and joined everything I could to get extra entries (Pinterest, Instagram, Tumblr, StumbleUpon, Foursquare). I posted to Facebook. I tweeted. I followed others tweets. I entered all the extra contests. I won Coconut Water for the dogs. Only 4 contests still open. I just had to win a phone. This was something I *needed*. Three days passed…

Congratulations, you won the HTC Max One Smartphone giveaway from The Suburban Mom! (Insert Happy Dance here!)

I had nearly missed the email in the deluge. But, you know it, I happy danced… I happy danced ALL day! I happy danced in the living room. I happy danced in the kitchen. I happy danced up the stairs, through the bedroom and in front of the bathroom mirror. I did it. I won! This was contest crack. Within a week, I had successfully won something I needed with some focus. Not only something I needed, but an extra goodie for the dog as well.

This gave me focus, purpose and a plan for future winnings. I began to look over my success and considering if I should leave some websites behind, labeled as duds. The next day, I received an email from a site I thought would be a dud. Congratulations! New cat toy on it’s way. You’ll love this… It arrived a day after I responded. How’s THAT for service? Two days after that… I won a supply of dog food. NO WAY! Now I was on a roll.

In 8 days, I received notice of winning 4 prizes. There was something to this, no doubt. And the odds? I could probably win a car, $2 million in cash and average $10,000 a month on the blogs long before PCH paid out… and I could always spend $2 on Powerball or Megamillions if I wanted to throw money away for fun. But this – this was solid. If I get focused, just how much of what I need could I win? And how much money could I make if I follow Ron and made sweepstaking my full-time job?

Over the next month, follow my journey into this intriguing world and explore how sweepstakes moved from a noun to a verb. You can join in the experiment as I share the tips and tricks I learn to find the contests with the best odds. I’ll also be exploring how to run a successful (popular) sweepstakes and how to avoid common mistakes. This will be particularly interesting for those interested in becoming bloggers as running (or participating in) sweepstakes as a host is an excellent way to increase your site traffic and score freebies of your choice.

As we explore the world on the Bias Opinions website, remember that you can join in the sweepstakes fun on Facebook in our special Bias Stakes Giveaway group where I’ll be posting the sweepstakes I find. Ride on my Twitter coattails and follow the #hashtags to enter into contests for the giveaway goodies that fit your lifestyle. Stay tuned for more information as we take a practical exploration of “how to win free stuff.”

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