What Are Sweepstakes & Social Casinos & How Do They Work

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The hype surrounding sweepstakes and social casinos is gaining momentum in the U.S., and it’s easy to see why. They offer a space to enjoy top-quality casino games at no cost and win real prizes—and it’s all within legal bounds in most states. These platforms provide an exciting alternative to traditional online casinos, especially in states where they're off-limits.

Social and sweepstakes casinos are essentially free-play gaming apps that use fictitious currency instead of real money. Typically, there are two types of digital coins in use: one is purely for gameplay, while the other can be used both for playing and exchange for actual rewards—gift cards, merchandise, and cash prizes.

One crucial component of their business model is the commitment to distribute free coins. Put differently, the casino regularly gifts tokens, which you can turn into valuable rewards if you win. This proposition—playing without risking a dime yet having the chance to win prizes—makes these platforms a real draw.

The terms “sweepstakes casinos” and “social casinos” are often used interchangeably. The reasoning for this, beyond marketing terminology, is simple.

Platforms that only allow players to use coins that you can’t redeem for prizes (often called Gold Coins), are social casinos. However, when they allow players to also use Sweepstakes Coins, which can be redeemed for cash prizes, they are called sweepstakes casinos.

If you're new to the world of social and sweepstakes casinos or are just intrigued by the how sweepstakes model works, this post will clear up any confusion and help you navigate this fast-growing industry.

If you're ready to jump in and start playing, check out our choices for the best sweepstakes casinos to find your best option.

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Defining Social & Sweepstakes Casinos

To fully grasp the sweepstakes model, we must turn back the clock and see where it all started. Sweepstakes aren't a recent phenomenon; they've been part of marketing strategies for various industries for quite some time.

Sweeping Through History: The Birth of Sweepstakes

The story of sweepstakes begins in 1953 with Publishers Clearing House (PCH). PCH started as a company selling magazine subscriptions directly to consumers. To boost sales and attract more customers, they launched a sweepstakes initiative.

Under the program, each subscription purchased came with an entry into a prize draw, with massive cash rewards on the line. The strategy was a smash hit, roping in millions of participants and skyrocketing sales.

The sweepstakes model didn't stay confined to the marketing sector. From fast food chains using sweepstakes to ramp up customer engagement to major sports leagues creating fan excitement with prize opportunities, sweepstakes have found their way into various industries.

For instance, the National Football League (NFL) has leveraged sweepstakes to engage and reward its fans. For the 2023 Super Bowl, participants had the chance to win various attractive prizes, including exclusive NFL merchandise and gift cards.

This brief detour into the history of sweepstakes shows how the mode has evolved over the decades, paving the way for its application in the gaming industry today.

Brushing Up on the Basics: Sweepstakes, Contests, and Lotteries

Before we dive deeper into the workings of sweepstakes and social casinos, it's essential to clarify some key terms: sweepstakes, contests, and lotteries. This will help make sense of the rules and regulations that govern these platforms.

  • Sweepstakes: In sweepstakes, winners are selected at random from all participants. Think of a promotional event where you submit your email for a chance to win a gift card. That's a sweepstakes—a free game of luck.
  • Contests: Unlike sweepstakes, contests require an element of skill or criteria for winning. Winners aren't chosen randomly but are judged based on the merits of their entry or performance. An example of this would be DFS sites, where the prizes go to the contestants with the best entries. The requirement of skill or effort makes contests less appealing to some compared to sweepstakes, but they remain a popular marketing strategy.
  • Lotteries: Lotteries resemble sweepstakes in that they involve a random draw. However, lotteries require participants to pay an entry fee or “consideration.” Only states can legally organize lotteries, making private lotteries typically unlawful.

Unpacking Gamblification: the Modern Phenomenon

“Gamblification” is a blend of “gambling” and “gamification.” It refers to incorporating elements of gambling into otherwise non-gambling activities.

For example, imagine playing a social game where you buy virtual poker chips. There's no real money involved, but it feels like being in a casino, making the game more exciting. This is a prime example of “gamblification.”

Fantasy sports platforms are an example here. You create virtual sports teams and compete with friends. You don't always bet real money, but there's a thrill of gambling involved as you try to outscore your opponents.

But “gamblification” is a complex field. As it grows in popularity, legal rules struggle to keep up. That's why businesses must be careful about how they “gamblify” their activities, ensuring they're fun but also legal and fair.

Prize-Chance-Consideration Doctrine

A pivotal concept in grasping the legality of various online sweepstakes games and promotions is the “Prize-Chance-Consideration” rule. Here's a simple breakdown of these three important topics:

  • Prize: In most games and sweepstakes promotions, there's a reward you're trying to win. It's the exciting part—the big finish. However, some games and promos, instead of giving a physical or cash prize, offer something less tangible, like a title, recognition, or coins.
  • Chance: This element introduces the factor of luck in the game. It means the outcome is determined randomly and doesn't rely on skill. However, if the game ensures a prize for everyone or judges winners based on talent, it’s no longer a game of chance.
  • Consideration: This term signifies what you give to participate in the game. While this is often money, it could also represent time, effort, or even a task such as a store visit.

To stay legal and avoid being considered gambling, a game or promotion (or a sweepstakes casino) must not include all three of these elements.

Important Sweepstakes Rules

Two rules guide sweepstakes casinos in relation to prize, chance, and consideration. These are:

  • No Purchase Necessary Rule: In line with the principle of “consideration,” sweepstakes casinos are not permitted to require players to spend money or provide anything else of value to participate in their games or promotions. Essentially, they should be able to play games without mandatory purchases, meaning a wide array of no deposit bonuses are available.
  • Alternative Means of Entry (AMOE) Rule: This rule permits sweepstakes casinos to facilitate purchases, but only if they also offer a free method of participation, known as an AMOE. This ensures that everyone, whether they make a purchase or not, gets a chance to participate. Examples of AMOE could be entering via an online form, sending snail mail, or participating through social media platforms.

Sweepstakes Casinos: An Ingenious and Lawful Gaming Innovation

Rest assured, sweepstakes casinos aren't operating through shady methods. Rather, they cleverly navigate legal loopholes to provide a completely lawful gaming experience. Here's how they accomplish this:

  • Virtual Tokens—a Clever Workaround: Social and sweepstakes casinos replace real cash with virtual tokens. Since these tokens have no tangible value, they eliminate the “consideration” aspect from the equation. This nifty tweak is why sweepstakes casinos can't be categorized as gambling platforms.
  • Guaranteeing Chance: All games and promotions on these sites operate on sheer randomness. By employing a Random Number Generator, sweepstakes casinos ensure the principle of “chance” is followed to the letter, promoting fair play for everyone. Also, all promotional giveaways are distributed at random.
  • Awarding Prizes: Prizes, integral to sweepstakes, are offered as coins to players. Although these coins don't have a cash equivalent, they still stand as something to win, hence, covering the “prize” component of the Prize-Chance-Consideration trinity.
  • No Purchase Required: Social and sweepstakes casinos stay true to the “No Purchase Necessary” rule by giving players coins for gaming without any purchase needed. This means players don't have to spend a penny to play games on these platforms.
  • Alternative Means of Entry (AMOE) Compliance: Sweepstakes casinos follow the AMOE rule by allowing players to request free coins (with redeemable value) as many times as they wish.

By cleverly maneuvering around the legal definitions and mandates, sweepstakes casinos have found a path that lets them provide a unique gaming experience while staying on the right side of the law.

Quick Facts About Sweepstakes and Social Casinos

Here are some important points to keep in mind before you start playing at sweepstakes casinos:

  • No purchase is needed to play games.
  • Coins are supplied through bonuses or promotions.
  • Prizes in Florida and New York are limited to $5,000 per session.
  • Players must be 18+ or 21+ (varies by site and state).
  • Idaho supports only free play with Gold Coins.
  • To claim cash prizes, players must verify personal and banking information.
  • For Pennsylvania, the total contest prizes can't exceed $1,000, with a $25,000 limit for all prizes in any 7-day period.

How Virtual Currencies Work with Sweepstakes and Social Casinos

Sweepstakes and social casinos use virtual currencies as an alternative to real money. These in-house tokens come in two main types:

  • Gold Coins: These coins act similarly to play money or demo credits in traditional casinos. They hold no actual monetary value. When you win using Gold Coins, your winnings are simply more Gold Coins to continue gameplay.
  • Sweepstakes Coins: These are the coins that can potentially convert into actual rewards. Sweepstakes Coins are also used for gameplay, but unlike Gold Coins, they have redeemable value. That means you can exchange them for real cash prizes, gift cards, merchandise, and tangible prizes.

One key aspect to note is that Sweepstakes Coins can't be bought directly. They work as bonus coins alongside Gold Coins. When you acquire (or buy) a hefty sum of Gold Coins, you are gifted a nominal quantity of Sweepstakes Coins. Hence, they are often referred to as “free” For instance, you might purchase 20,000 Gold Coins and receive 2 Sweepstakes Coins as a free bonus.

What’s more, different casinos sometimes use unique names for these coins:

Redeeming Coins for Prizes

First off, it's crucial to differentiate between “pure” social and sweepstakes casinos. 

Social casinos only utilize Gold Coins (or equivalent), meaning they're purely for entertainment, and winning real prizes isn't an option. An example is BetRivers.net.

Sweepstakes casinos, on the other hand, do allow for prize redemption. Examples of sweepstakes casinos include Pulsz, High 5 Casino, Funrize, and WOW Vegas.

Sweepstakes casinos typically apply a 1x wagering requirement on Sweepstakes Coins, meaning you can't redeem them immediately upon receipt. Instead, you need to use them in gameplay at least once before you can convert them into rewards.

Furthermore, these casinos set a minimum redemption threshold. This is the minimum amount of Sweepstakes Coins you need to accumulate before you can redeem them for prizes. Generally, the threshold is lower for redeeming gift cards (around $25 worth of coins) than it is for cash prizes (typically between $50 or $100 worth of coins).

The conversion rate for Sweepstakes Coins to actual dollars varies, but it's typically set at a 1:1 ratio (1 Sweepstakes Coin equals 1 dollar).

Lastly, sweepstakes casinos offer several redemption methods, including debit and credit cards, online banking, and, occasionally, e-wallet services such as PayPal.

Types of Games Sweepstakes & Social Casinos Offer

Sweepstakes and social casinos typically offer a diverse selection of games, although the exact line-up varies from site to site. They usually host several genres, typically including slots and some other game categories.

Here are the types of games that you may come across at social and sweepstakes casinos:

  • Online slots
  • RNG Table games—blackjack, roulette, baccarat, craps, casino poker
  • Live dealer games
  • Fish games
  • Specialty games—bingo, keno, scratchcards, provably fair games

While these casinos usually develop their games in-house, some also source games from third-party providers, which may include heavy hitters like:

  • NetEnt
  • Pragmatic Play
  • Evolution Gaming
  • NetGame
  • Wazdan
  • Betsoft
  • BGaming
  • GameArt
  • Belatra
  • Boooongo
  • Playson
  • Relax Gaming
There are even social sportsbooks, such as BetRivers.net, Thrillzz, and Sportzino that allow you to place virtual bets on real sports games.

What is the Purpose of Sweepstakes & Social Casinos

Sweepstakes and social casinos are popular for several reasons.

The main appeal is their entertainment value. As they often collaborate with top-tier software providers, these platforms can provide a gaming experience that rivals traditional casinos. This means that players can indulge in high-quality games, mirroring the experience of visiting a land-based casino or playing at a real-money online platform, all without needing to invest any of their money.

The real kicker, however, is the chance to win actual prizes without putting your hard-earned dollars on the line. Sure, no one should expect to break the bank instantly—these platforms hand out Sweeps Coins sparingly. But that spark of possibility, the chance of walking away with a little something extra, adds a layer of exhilaration to the experience.

Regular promotions and giveaways add another level of interest, offering more opportunities to amass those coveted Sweeps Coins. Sure, hitting it big might be a stretch, but the chance to pocket a prize certainly exists. making these platforms an appealing option for the casual player.

In a nutshell, sweepstakes and social casinos are about good, old-fashioned entertainment with the added thrill of potentially winning a prize. They cater to those who enjoy the excitement of casino games without financial stress.

How Sweepstakes & Social Casinos Make Money

While sweepstakes and social casinos offer players a chance to win prizes without the risk associated with traditional gambling, they still need to make money to operate and be profitable. Here's how these platforms generate revenue:

  • Virtual Coin Sales: Primarily, these platforms generate revenue by selling virtual currencies like Gold Coins. These coins, while holding no real-world monetary value, are essential for playing games on these platforms. Players buy these coins to extend their playtime and experience more of the available games.
  • Sweepstakes Coin Packages: Another significant revenue source is the sale of packages that bundle virtual coins with bonus Sweepstakes Coins, which hold redeemable value. As the provision of free Sweepstakes Coins is rather limited, players are enticed to purchase these packages to receive more of these coins. While the Sweepstakes Coins are portrayed as a “free bonus,” they play a role in motivating purchases.
  • In-App Purchases: In addition to coin sales, sweepstakes and social casinos also profit from in-app purchases. For example, players can purchase special features like access to prize wheels.
  • Exclusive Access and Perks: The platforms often incentivize players to make purchases by offering exclusive perks. For instance, purchasing players might get exclusive access to specific games that are otherwise locked. They may also receive points for the VIP program, which further encourages spending.
  • Partnerships and Sponsorships: Sweepstakes and social casinos may enter into partnerships with other businesses. These can take the form of sponsored games, in-game product placements, or cross-promotions with other products or services.

States Where Sweepstakes & Social Casinos Are Legal

Sweepstakes and social casinos operate legally across most of the United States. Social casinos, being pure entertainment platforms, are generally allowed in all 50 states.

When it comes to sweepstakes casinos, they are legal in the vast majority of states, but there are some exceptions. Washington is a state where sweepstakes casinos are not allowed at all. Meanwhile, Idaho, Nevada, and sometimes New York are sporadically excluded based on individual casino policies.

Given these occasional exclusions, it's always advised to check your specific casino's Terms & Conditions to ensure their services are legally accessible in your state.

Dave Rathmanner

Dave Rathmanner is the Founder & CEO of Odds Assist. After struggling to find helpful sports betting resources and honest reviews when he first started betting, he decided to create the site he always wished he had. Dave has been betting on sports since NJ legalized it in 2018 and regularly analyzes sportsbooks to find the best options for bettors. Aside from creating new content for OA readers, Dave is also passionate about researching betting markets, creating models, and developing profitable betting strategies.