Google Ran An Illegal Lottery — And We Got Them to Stop

Last Wednesday evening, Google sent out an email to Google Assistant customers announcing a sweepstakes to win a free Google Home Max speaker.

Google email

To get your chance to win, you had to either buy a 2-pack of Google Home Minis smart speakers yourself (or anything else from the Google store), or get a friend to buy two using a special link that would secure your entry. At the bottom of the offer was a terms and conditions link with the contest rules.


Despite the rules saying multiple times “no purchase necessary” to enter the sweepstakes, they provided no free means of entry. You or someone else had to make a purchase for a chance to win. And that makes this an illegal lottery, against federal law and the gambling laws of virtually every state. “Paying a price for the chance of a prize” is the classic definition of a lottery. To convert an illegal lottery into a legal sweepstakes, the promoter must always include a free means of entry.

But Google didn’t do that.

We wrote to their PR folks about 12 hours after their email was sent, contacting both Google and its parent company, Alphabet, pointing out the problem and asking how they were going to remedy it. By that evening Google sent out a new email to customers entitled “Update to Home Max Sweepstakes.”

Google Revised Email

Miraculously, all mentions of a purchase being necessary disappeared from the promotion. And the sweepstakes rules were changed to include an additional alternate means of free entry.


Google updated sweepstakes rules

Did Google or Alphabet reply to our email, or even send a note of appreciation for getting them out of potential legal hot water? Nope.

Share this story:
All comments are reviewed before being published, and may be edited. Comments that are off-topic, contain personal attacks, or are otherwise inappropriate will be deleted.

5 thoughts on “Google Ran An Illegal Lottery — And We Got Them to Stop”

  1. Interesting- I wrote back to them also stating there was no alternate free way to enter. I did not hear back or get the updated version of the offer though. Thanks for following up!

  2. In the original promotion, did google miss the basic rules of contest promotions or did they choose to ignore them?

    Edgar replies: I like to say that the young 20-something people that work at tech companies never learned the old marketing and consumer 101 lessons that seasoned advertising people know backwards and forwards.

  3. I wonder how those young people who feel empowered working for the giants feel about being corrected? Hoping the entries aren’t discarded accidentally, you know? It was a pretty big blunder which contradicted itself clearly…

  4. Good job! Now if you could just get local advertiser Jordan’s Furniture to cut out their annoying yearly “Free Furniture if The Red Sox pitch a no-hitter or win the World Series” scheme

  5. Re: Jordans. Hmmm…..Never thought of it that way before, but that certainly seems to be breaking the same rule Google did. A purchase is required to win.

    Edgar replies: So everyone not from MA and NH knows, Bob and David are referring to advertising for a furniture chain in Boston which promises all your furniture purchases during the promotion will be free if the Red Sox pitch a no-hitter between July 31 and the end of the season. Only purchasers can win.

    Trust me, I wish the Mass. AG would go after them, but they won’t (despite my adding an explicit section to their advertising regulations requiring a no purchase necessary option). The promotion was challenged years ago in court, I believe, but the SJC either declined to hear the case, or it was so ineffectively argued, the plaintiff lost there. The appeals court in 2008 said: “For substantially the reasons set forth in the motion judge’s memorandum of decision, we affirm. As the judge recognized, the amended complaint is bereft of language alleging that any portion of the purchase price was paid in anticipation of the Monster Sweep rebate and, accordingly, the complaint was properly dismissed.”

    One issue was always since everyone’s purchase was a different amount, what amount would a non-purchaser be entitled to. My answer was always, the average amount of all purchasers combined.

Comments are closed.