Difference between a Contest and Sweepstakes

By: | Updated: Feb-10, 2020
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Contests and sweepstakes are the spice of promotional campaigns as they have the power to significantly raise brand awareness. But while the two are an integral part of an efficient marketing plan, they are far from being interchangeable.

Summary Table

Contest Sweepstakes
To join a contest, participants need to be qualified based on a set of talent or skill Open to all aspiring participants; does not require any talent or skill
May or may not require an entry fee Prohibited to require an entry fee
Winner/s are selected based on a criteria Winner/s are randomly selected via a draw
A competition where talents and skills take the place of luck A game of luck


A hula hoop contest

A contest is a competition where people aim to attain supremacy in a particular activity, sport, or event.

Balls used to randomly pick sweepstakes winners

Sweepstakes, on the other hand, are a type of gamble where participants can win a prize or a part of the prize.

Contest vs Sweepstakes

They both offer businesses an opportunity to gain strong audience engagement, but there is still a huge difference between a contest and sweepstakes. Below are some of the factors that set them apart:


A contest and sweepstakes are prize-driven events that boost brand awareness, but they are widely different in terms of entry pathways. A contest is a competition – selecting aspiring contestants based on existing talent or skill. Some contests may even have a structured screening process that gives competitors the chance to show off their talent or skill. Sweepstakes, by contrast, do not choose participants based on any criteria. They are open to everyone who wants to take part in the event.

Entry Fees

Contests are allowed to charge an entry fee of their contestants, which adds up to the prize money. Sweepstakes do not involve any entry fee. State and federal laws have created a clear distinction between a lottery and sweepstakes by the presence and the absence of entry fees. Basically, if a sweepstake requires an entry fee, it is already considered a lottery – and this is illegal except for some government-sponsored events. With this in mind, promotional managers must be aware of their current state laws when running these campaigns as simple mistakes can cause legal actions.

Selection Process

If there is one major difference between the two, it’s the selection process used to determine the winner/s. A contest is a specific event where participants are judged based on merit. During a contest, entries are reviewed and evaluated while following specific guidelines. A panel of reputable judges make subjective decisions that are highly dependent on the performance of the participants. A perfect example is a singing contest where judges choose a winner based on structured criteria. The scores are then tallied and the ones with the highest scores are ranked and declared the winners.

On the other end of the spectrum, sweepstakes neither involve a panel of judges nor a set of criteria. It is an event where winners are randomly selected via a draw.

Nature of the Event

Unlike a contest where winning is performance-based, sweepstakes are purely games of luck.

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