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Diving into the history of sweepstakes: The origin of the term

Jerard Alonzo Profile Picture

the author

Renzo A.

Date Post

Feb 09, 2024

A colorful illustration of history throughout the time.


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You may have heard about the term “sweepstake” in numerous contexts but aren’t aware of what it means and how it’s used. This term has been around for centuries, and its meaning has changed completely over the years. Even though the term stayed the same, we can say that the modern and the original meaning may be on opposite sides of the spectrum.

Sweepstakes have a vivid history, and today, we’ll dive deep into it to teach you everything there is about its origin, evolution, and modern use.

Historical origins

The term sweepstakes first appeared in the late 14th century. During this time, people came up with numerous sorts of gambling. With new games come new rules, and sweepstakes were one of them. In its original sense, a sweepstake was a person who would “sweep” all the “stakes” made in a particular game.

The term was mainly used for horse races where one would win all the stakes or split it with other winners if they guessed which horse would first come to the finish line.

Sweepstakes quickly gained popularity during the 14th and 15th centuries, and many people wanted to try their luck to win amazing prizes. As the popularity rose, many people wanted to find ways to misuse the term and turn the stakes to their advantage, which is when the meaning and the concept of sweepstakes changed according to the law, but we’ll touch upon that topic in a minute.


As mentioned above, sweepstakes were very popular in the 14th and 15th centuries, so much so that many people named their boat Sweepstakes, thinking the name would bring them the most catches. Online sweepstakes games were an inevitable part of everyday life, and many people tried their luck, hoping to win significant prizes.

However, many gambled too much and may have lost a fortune on sweepstake games. Because of this, the Federal Communications Commission and Federal Trade Commission created sweepstake rules allowing everyone to play and win without spending their assets. The entries were free – even if you decide to purchase an entry, it won’t affect your winning stakes.

These rules, made around the 17th century, allowed everyone to have some fun and enjoy the adrenaline rush. Sweepstakes became free and available to all, thanks to these simple rules. Sweepstakes were no longer considered gambling but a form of entertainment.

Modern interpretation

Sweepstakes in their original sense and the modern interpretation differ significantly. As mentioned above, sweepstakes are a form of gambling where one winner takes it all. However, today’s interpretation is similar to that in the 17th century – sweepstakes are primarily free and available to everyone. Moreover, you won’t have a higher chance of winning if you purchase an entry.

Today, sweepstakes give everyone equal chances of finding monetary prizes, products, and items, depending on the sweepstake type. You can find numerous sweepstake organizations and promotions; the only thing they have in common is that they are free, and you can win something.

The interpretation of sweepstakes will also depend on the region and its laws, regulations, and rules. We’ll discuss a couple of different interpretations below.

The US interpretation

The United States may have the most complicated interpretation of the term sweepstakes. For instance, you can find online sweepstake casinos where you won’t have to deposit money to play your favorite games. Additionally, you can earn valuable prizes (sometimes even monetary ones) by playing for free.

On the other hand, you can find sweepstake promotions from renowned companies offering amazing prizes, such as cars, tech, etc., in exchange for purchasing their products. One such example is the Pepsi Billion Dollar Sweepstake, where you can play Pepsi-themed games, earn coins, and exchange them for your favorite soft drink from the abovementioned company.

However, the sweepstake rules and regulations differ in every state across the US, so you must be careful if you sign up for some of these promotions, as you may face legal issues.

The British interpretation

The sweepstake industry isn’t so present in the United Kingdom. You can still find some sweepstake games nationwide, but most are small-scale, and you cannot earn valuable prizes. British laws state that every sweepstake with even the smallest fee is considered gambling, which is why sweepstakes aren’t present here.

However, this wasn’t always the case. The UK organized an enormous charity organization back in the ’70s, which may be similar to today’s social gaming and events. Namely, people participated in free sweepstake events while paying a fee, which was used to build and fund hospitals around the UK, primarily in Ireland.

Today, you cannot find too many true sweepstake industries that won’t ask you to pay a fee in advance and unlock the available games.

The Australian interpretation

Australians use sweepstakes to define competitions requiring you to pay a fee. These competitions are considered lotteries since they are games based on luck. The Australian interpretation may be the closest to the original sweepstake interpretation currently.

One of the things that makes this competition different from other interpretations is that you’ll have to do a test before entering the competition. These tests contain questions that will prove your credibility to enter and win certain prizes. You can also find company-based competitions similar to the US principle.

Legal considerations

When sweepstakes first appeared, they weren’t regulated by the law. Instead, sweepstakes were created by the locals to bring some entertainment into their lives. Once sweepstakes became popular, the government had to protect gambling addictions and overspending, which is when sweepstake rules were established.

These rules state that the player doesn’t have to pay an entry fee. Instead, they only need to sign up for the game and are eligible to win prizes. These cost-free rules are still relevant today in some countries, such as the US.

However, some countries and states still view sweepstakes as gambling, which may be illegal. For instance, you cannot access sweepstake casinos and games in Washington due to these local regulations.


Sweepstakes have been around for a couple of centuries. During this time, the term had numerous meanings, regulations, rules, and strategies, which brings us to the modern interpretation.

We have discussed the history of one of the most complex terms and how it came to modern usage. Moreover, we covered all the legal considerations and why they were established to help you get a clear image of the sweepstake industry.

Jerard Alonzo Profile Picture

The Author

Jerard Alonzo Profile Picture

Renzo A.

the author

Renzo is one of the newest additions to the crew. With a extensive background in data gathering and with valuable insights on casinos, he's your go to person for questions about the iGaming industry. He's worked hard to develop his skill for discovering trends as well as crafting well put together reviews. In his spare time, Renzo is a crypto enthusiast/trader who like to explore the exciting and endless possibilities of blockchain technology.

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