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April 16, 2012

Follow-up: Deal or No Deal’s Surprise Texting Charges

Filed under: Internet,Sweepstakes — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 5:36 am

deal or no deal Five years ago, Mouse Print* railed against a promotion run on NBC’s Deal or No Deal game show (see original story) whereby viewers could win $10,000 or $20,000 if they correctly guessed which of six briefcases the money was hidden in.

The problem was this: in order to play, you had to text in your answer with your cellphone, and only in fine print was it disclosed that each guess would cost you 99 cents as a premium text message charge. NBC raked in some $45 million from this promotion.

Under the laws of most states, any private venture where you have to pay a price for the chance of a prize is considered an illegal lottery. There was also an inconspicuously disclosed means to play for free. However, since that method required Internet access, and at that time about a third of homes did not have Internat at home, such a free means of entry might not have been sufficient to take the promotion out the realm of being a lottery.

Now, five years later, after NBC and the show’s producers were sued (as well as Fox for its lottery-like promotion on American Idol), the companies have settled the cases.

Everyone who paid 99 cents per call is now entitled to a refund.


For the Deal or No Deal Lucky Case Game, which aired between December 2005 and February 2008, you can file your claim here.

For American Idol’s Challenge Game, which aired Feb. – May 2007, you can file your claim here.

The filing deadline is August 10, 2012.

• • •

October 6, 2008

The Reality of Reality TV Show Top Prizes

Filed under: Sweepstakes,Uncategorized — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 6:21 am

America's Got TalentLast week, Neal E. Boyd won the top prize on NBC’s America’s Got Talent program.  In addition to headlining one show at a Las Vegas hotel, he also won a much ballyhooed $1,000,000, or so it seemed.

Throughout the season, host Jerry Springer reminded contestants of the big prize and the chance to become America’s most talented winner.

Let’s hope that Mr. Boyd wiped the stars out of his eyes long enough to read his contract with the program, and the fine print that rolled by during the credits at the end of the show.



Translation:  Like the lottery, the big prize is doled out in small increments over decades.  In this case, the winner would wind up getting less than $500 a week for 40 years.  That’s a mere $25,000 a year.  Hardly an amount that would change one’s life.  The alternative lump sum amount is not stated, but after taxes, it is likely to be in the $300,000 range. 

The million dollar prize certainly was an attention getter for the thousands that tried out for the show, and to create excitement amongst viewers.  The winner got his shot at fame, which he might say was priceless, and worth more than the somewhat illusory million dollar cash prize.

It appears that other reality shows have also touted big top prizes that were never quite what they appeared, and sometimes, they were not even awarded.  (See end of this story.)

• • •

June 18, 2007

Deal or No Deal: Surprise Texting Charges

Filed under: Sweepstakes,Telephone — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 5:54 am

Deal or No Deal smallDeal or No Deal is a big TV hit, but the millions of viewers who play their weekly “Lucky Case Game” may not be aware of all the charges associated it.

Four times during each program viewers are urged to grab their cellphones and text the number of the case (one through six) that has $10,000 or $20,000 hidden in it. One winner will be chosen by the end of the program from all those who guess the correct numbered case, and that person gets the cash prize.


“$.99 per text msg plus standard text messaging charges.Go to to enter for free…”

Most people cannot read that disclosure because of its small size and the limited time it appears on the screen. So wouldn’t an oral disclosure of the price make sense and be fair? This show makes no such oral disclosure of the price in two out of the four times it promotes the sweepstakes.

In addition, there are additional charges that may wind up on your cell bill that are not disclosed during the TV program at all, and are only revealed in the official rules on the NBC website:


“In addition, a premium text message charge of $.99 will apply to all text messages sent and received in connection with the Promotion. This charge will be billed on your wireless phone bill or deducted from your prepaid balance. You will receive a “thank you” text message that night including a DEAL OR NO DEAL Insider message. This message provides additional information about the Show, its host and/or products. The following day, you will receive a text message giving you the ability to opt-in to an SMS-based message program keeping you up to date on the latest cool Show information and more. You may stop receiving text messages at any time by responding “end”, “stop” or “quit” to any of the messages.”

So in addition to the 99¢ premium charge, your cell company will bill you for three separate text messages. The latter two are most likely promotional messages related to the show. For those without an unlimited texting plan, sending that one original text message will wind up costing anywhere from $1.14 to $1.44 (plus tax) depending on the price you are charged by your cell provider for text messaging. One can only hope that the 99¢ charge does not apply to each message “sent and received.” 

The public is spending a fortune on TV voting and games promotions. In fact, about $17 million was raked in by NBC on the Deal or No Deal “Lucky Case Game” just in the first three months of 2007. That one game accounts for nearly half the money spent in the US on all such premium texting promotions. [See story.]

But isn’t the Deal or No Deal game and other similar promotions tantamount to gambling?  You are paying a price for the chance of a prize, which is the definition of a “lottery” in most states, and most private companies are not allowed to conduct lotteries. Promotions like this are generally not considered lotteries if they offer a “no purchase necessary” means of playing the game. NBC does that, but in MrConsumer’s view, offering to play the game for free only via the Internet fails as a viable alternate means because one in four households do not have Internet access (and their only way to play is to pay via cellphone).

A similar text messaging promotion is currently being challenged in court in Georgia by a plaintiff who is claiming that the game on NBC’s Apprentice, “Get Rich with Trump” constituted an illegal lottery, even though it had a “no purchase necessary” means of entry. (See previous Mouse Print posting, and this newsletter [pdf].) 

Is it any surprise, then, that NBC now says their Deal or No Deal game is not open to residents of Georgia? 

• • •

May 8, 2006

Apprentice Game: Get Rich with Trump*

Filed under: Sweepstakes — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 6:31 am

Get Rich with Trump smallIf you are addicted to NBC’s Apprentice, you may be eager to try to win $10,000 by predicting which wannabe should be fired by the end of the show each week. To that end,the program created a “Get Rich with Trump” game inviting you to text message the letter of the loser to a particular number while the show is on the air.  They then hold a drawing amongst all entries, and one lucky person wins $10,000.

*MOUSE PRINT: What is not orally disclosed during each presentation of the game promo are two key facts in the mouse print:  (1) each text message you send costs 99 cents plus any text messages charges levied by your cell company, and (2) you can play the game for free by visiting  [Oral disclosure is only made during the first promo of the evening, and not during the subsequent three other ones. NBC Apprentice, May 1, 8, 2006]

Under state and federal law, a company cannot charge a price for the chance of a prize (the definition of a “lottery”) unless they also offer a “no purchase necessary” means of entry.  That is why NBC offers the web option, but certainly does not disclose its availability prominently.

The fee to play the game probably will come as a surprise to many people who call in, since in most presentations of the promotion, there is no oral disclosure of the price.  The newness of text messaging services poses a problem for existing laws, like the FTC’s “Pay Per Call” rule.  Those requirements which mandate oral disclosure of the price of a call were designed primarily for calls to 900 numbers.  It may be time to update the rules to include text messaging services as well.

“Get Rich with Trump” is more likely to make its promoters rich(er) rather than you.

• • •

March 28, 2006

Krispy Kreme: A Family Vacation for Life*

Filed under: Food/Groceries,Retail,Sweepstakes — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 5:37 pm

Krispy Kreme Vacation Sweepstakes t

Sweet. Krispy Kreme is holding a sweepstakes and the top prize is a family vacation for life.  Assuming a 35 year old husband and wife and two kids won, adding up airfare and hotels for the next 40 years would be quite expensive… so what a valuable prize this is.  Or is it?

*MOUSE PRINT: “Ownership one week timeshare at a nationally recognized vacation club based in Orlando, FL and $5000 …”  Alternatively, you can take $15,000 instead of the timeshare and $5000. [Newspaper insert April 2, 2006]

Who would have expected that the prize was really a timeshare? Also, note that airfare is not part of your vacation.  You will surely use up your $5000 pretty quickly on that, and on maintenance fees normally charged on timeshares.  And, unless you always want to vacation in Orlando, there may be extra charges to swap your week for a week in another location.


P.S.  You don’t have to buy a dozen donuts to get a game ticket. You can just ask for one with no purchase necessary.

• • •
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