Sweepstakes Drawings: How Giveaway Winners Are Chosen

Knowing How Sweepstakes Work Boosts Your Odds of Winning

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If you want to win giveaways, understanding how sponsors choose winners is a big help. If you know how the giveaway works, you can often tweak the odds in your favor.

Knowing how sweepstakes drawings work helps you answer questions like:

  • Can you raise your chances of winning sweepstakes by entering at a specific time of the day?
  • Does decorating your envelopes raise your odds of being picked as a mail-in winner?
  • Should you crumple an official entry blank before depositing it into a drop box?

Understanding the different winning methods lets you tailor your entries to give you better odds. Here are some of the most common winner drawing methods and how they work.

Drawing Winners From a Mailbag

When sweepstakes accept entries by mail, a simple way to draw the winner is to simply pick a name by hand. Here's an example of a popular way to draw mail-in winners for sweepstakes with lots of entries:

As envelopes or postcards arrive, they are sorted into bags. Each bag is given its own number, and the entries are divided as evenly as possible among the bags. When it's time to pick the giveaway winner's name, a mailbag is chosen at random using a random number generator.

A person designated by the sponsor then reaches into the chosen bag, pulls out an envelope, and opens it. The person whose envelope was picked is then the potential winner (subject to verification).

For giveaways that use this winner selection method, you might be able to give yourself a small edge by decorating your envelope before you send it in.

Why? Well, you can't influence the bag your envelope is put into, nor can you influence which bag is randomly chosen. But if your entry is in the lucky bag, you can give yourself a teeny tiny bonus chance by making your envelope feel different from the others. It's natural, when feeling among a ton of envelopes, to grab the one that stands out.

Some mail-in sweepers swear by decorating the envelopes of their entry forms. The idea is that someone glancing into the mailbag might be attracted to an envelope that is brightly colored, has a cute or funny picture on it, or is flattering to the company sponsoring the giveaway.

That doesn't mean that you need to spend hours on each envelope to boost your odds. Nor does it mean you shouldn't bother entering if you aren't going to decorate. But if you have fun doing it, then you might be glad to know that it could help a tiny bit.

Pulling Names From a Container

Giveaways where you drop an entry blank into a box work in a similar way. The winner is drawn by having an employee of the sponsoring company reach blindly into a box and pick an entry form at random.

When the giveaway winner is chosen by manually picking an entry form, you can't tweak your odds of winning by picking a specific time of day to enter. There are some tricks that you can use to help you get an edge over the competition, however.

When dropping off an entry blank into a drop box at a mall or restaurant, you probably don't have time to decorate your entry form. However, you can still make your entry blank stand out by making it feel different when someone reaches into the container to draw the winner. Add texture to your entry by crumpling it or folding it into accordion pleats.

Again, this is a small advantage, but it only takes a few seconds, so why not try it?

The Winning Entry Chosen Is Chosen by a Random Number

This is the most common way to pick giveaway winners. Each entry into the giveaway is assigned a number in the order in which it is received.

On the drawing date, a number from 1 to the last entry number is chosen by random. The entry that corresponds to that number is the giveaway's winner.

See How HGTV Chooses Dream Home Winners for more details about how a famous giveaway used this method to choose its winners when it received millions of entries online and by mail.

This method of drawing winners can be used for online entries, mail-in sweepstakes, or sweepstakes with a variety of different entry methods, which makes it both fair and flexible.

It's not easy to tweak this entry method to give yourself an advantage. There's no way to know ahead of time which number to pick. Instead, you should focus on maximizing the number of entries that you can legally receive to boost your odds of winning.

For example, if the giveaway allows daily entries, be sure to return every day. Also pay attention to opportunities to refer friends or share on social media to boost your odds.

Drawings That Use a Randomly-Chosen Time

This entry method is often used to choose winners of instant-win sweepstakes. The sponsor randomly chooses one specific time per prize before the giveaway begins. The first entry made after that winning moment is the giveaway's winner.

This drawing method works best when the giveaway offers multiple prizes. Otherwise, if the randomly-selected time is too early, people will enter until the giveaway ends with no chance of winning.

It's impossible to know which winning times will be chosen in advance, so you can't tweak your odds by knowing which time to enter.

However, there's also another element to winning instant sweepstakes: how many people enter at any given time.

If thousands of people are entering a giveaway at the same time, you have to enter at precisely the right moment to be the winner. But during slow entry periods, there might be several minutes after the winning time when no one enters.

This means your window of opportunity is wider if you enter during slow times.

Because winning entry times are just as likely to be in the middle of the night as during the afternoon, entering when fewer other people are entering improves your chances of being picked as the winner.

So entry times for instant win sweepstakes do matter... but only slightly. No matter how many people are entering, you still have to be lucky enough to play around the winning time.

You may have a slight edge if you enter instant win sweepstakes late at night, on holidays, or during big events like the Super Bowl that will keep people away from their computers.

But remember that people do win at all times of the day. You shouldn't exhaust yourself by getting too little sleep or give up on instant wins altogether if you can't enter during non-peak times.

Get an Advantage by Entering a Giveaway When It Starts

Giveaways that have multiple drawings, like those that give away prizes every day or every week, give an advantage to people who enter shortly after they begin.

For one thing, you're in the running to win every prize when you start right away, whereas if you enter later, some of the prizes will have already been awarded.

But you also have better chances to win before word starts to spread and more and more people start to enter. In many cases, the odds of winning a prize in the first days or weeks are significantly higher.

It's also a good idea to remember that now and then, a giveaway stops accepting entries a bit earlier than their rules state. For that reason, try not to wait until the last minute to enter those sweepstakes. It's better to get your entries in early and avoid the risk of getting shut out.