Why Do Canadian Sweepstakes Have Skill-Testing Questions for Winners?

Canadians Have to Answer Skill-Testing Questions, But Americans Don't? Why?

Image of a Young Woman Trying to Answer a Skill Testing Question
Canadians Must Answer Skill Questions to Win Prizes... but Why?. Image (c) Peter Fisher/Corbis/Getty Images

What's the Point of Skill Testing Questions in Sweepstakes?

Why do Canadians have to answer skill-testing questions when they win sweepstakes? And why don't US residents have to, even when they win the same contest?

If you enter sweepstakes for Canadians, you'll often find a strange math equation on the entry form or you'll see a line in the rules that says something like: "If a Canadian resident wins a prize, that person must also answer correctly within a 5 minute time period a mathematical skill-testing question without the benefit of any calculating devices, before the prize will be awarded."

Why do Canadian residents have to answer skill testing questions to enter or to win giveaways? Are sweepstakes discriminating against Canadians?

Skill Testing Questions Aren't Discrimination — They're the Law (in Canada)

Many people wonder if the skill testing questions are designed to prevent Canadians from winning as often. But Canadian sweepstakes, and U.S. sweepstakes that are also open to Canadians, don't have skill testing questions because the sponsors don't want Canadians to win, and they don't affect Canadians' chances of winning. Skill-testing questions are there because they are required by Canadian sweepstakes law.

If you've read my introduction to contests, sweepstakes, and lotteries, you know that lotteries have three major components: the prizes have value, the sponsor benefits from the sweepstakes financially, and the winner is chosen at random. In order to avoid being an illegal private lottery, at least one of the three components must be removed.

In the United States, the sponsor usually removes the financial benefit, also known as consideration, to avoid being classified as an illegal lottery. That is why most sweepstakes state in their rules that you don't have to pay to enter and that a purchase will not change your chances of winning.

But Canadian sweepstakes law, unlike American law, requires that the third component, "winners are chosen by luck," be removed for a giveaway to be legal.

A giveaway cannot use pure luck to determine who wins. There must be at least some element of skill involved. For more information, see the Canadian Competition Act.

In order to remove the element of chance, sponsors narrow the field of potential winners by requiring a skill testing question to enter their contests. Every entrant does not have the same chance to win; only those who at least pass the skill testing question are eligible to win prizes.

Of course, this is only a technicality; most people can pass the skill testing questions without any trouble. The skill testing questions have to be somewhat challenging, but they are not generally difficult.

What Are the Requirements for a Skill-Testing Question?

While you shouldn't have to be a genius to answer a skill-testing question, it can't be a no-brainer, either. An easy math testing question is the minimum required to hold a legal Canadian contest or sweepstakes. Some Canadian sweepstakes go a step farther and ask a trivia question or another question that is a bit more difficult.

The Canadian courts have agreed that a four-part mathematical test such as "155 plus 33 minus four divided by 2" is enough to qualify as a skill-testing question, as long as winners are not allowed to use a calculator or other aid to answer the question.

But many contests use even easier three- or two-part tests for their skill testing questions.

Another option is to hold a true contest, where the entrants are judged based on their skills. Of course, winners of skill-based contests don't need to answer a skill-testing question as well.

Controversy Over Skill-Testing Questions

Although they are designed to protect consumers, using skill-testing questions for Canadian giveaways has caused controversy on occasion. Many find them unfair.

For example, in 2008, Tim Horton's initially refused to award a prize to a learning-disabled iPad winner, according to this Canoe.com article. The winner profiled in that piece, Sandra Poitras, eventually received her prize but said: "I think (skill testing questions are) wrong. I didn’t enter a draw. I won it." Is it fair that people with learning disabilities or dyscalculia aren't able to win prizes?

Who does that protect?

On the other hand, there's a case to be made that the skill-testing questions are too easy. "You don't have to have any type of aptitude," said Michael Katz, the CEO of Education411.com, according to a Wired.com article. "It is simply a way around or way to work within the laws."

How the Skill Testing Questions Affect Sweepstakes Jargon

This quirk of Canadian sweepstakes law affects not only the winners but also the jargon of the Canadian giveaway community.

Because the skill-testing question theoretically eliminates randomly-drawn winners, Canadians technically don't have sweepstakes. They call both judged contests and what Americans would call sweepstakes "contests."

While Americans call sweepstakes fans "sweepers," Canadians usually call them "contestors." Only contests really exist in Canada.