Hey all! I’m Patreon’s Head of Legal and can provide some additional insight here. Raffles/Giveaways are one of my favorite issues to discuss so happy to followup with any other questions you all have.
Before jumping into the substantive stuff:
- I am not an expert in lotteries, sweepstakes or contest law. This is a thing attorney’s literally build an entire career out of so I’m sure my limited knowledge is lacking.
- This is not legal advice and I am not your attorney. I can only provide general answers about the law and how Patreon treats this issue.
Alright, let’s start with an overview of the subject matter. There are three types of giveaways: lotteries, sweepstakes and contests. The classification depends on two main factors:
- Did everyone have to pay to enter?
- Was the winner chosen through pure chance?
If both are true then this is a lottery and is most likely illegal gambling. Pretty much every country and in the US every state has laws against gambling or heavily regulating it.
If only the second is true then you have a sweepstakes. Some entrants might have paid to enter, but it wasn’t required. This is where you might see the phrase “No Purchase Necessary.” A famous example of this is McDonalds Monopoly. As an alternative to paying for entry it often requires mailing in an entry. Many sweepstakes on the internet might require just signing up to an email list or following a twitter account. These are regulated in most places, but are generally legal.
If only the first is true then you have a contest where entrants have to pay (either through money or some sort of effort), but the winner is chosen through skill. A common example might be an essay writing contest. These are also regulated in most places, but are generally legal.
So what can you do on Patreon?
Anything that looks like a lottery is not allowed. This is both for Patreon’s protection and your own. Private lotteries are illegal pretty much everywhere and creators are just as likely to be arrested as Patreon is to get in trouble for this, but we would prefer neither happens.
Sweepstakes and contests are allowed, but we do not help administrate them in any way and cannot guarantee they are legal. There are lots of laws about this so please consider looking into it before doing something like this. Also if it’s illegal where you are, where a patron is, or you do it in a way that is illegal, then we would have to take action to remove it if we are given notice of any of these things.
Some more clear cut practices with lower (likely non-existant) legal risk are:
- First come first serve.
- Limited size reward tiers.
- Working down a list of all patrons at a reward level to give out special rewards, even if that reward is optional, e.g. you can ask if the patron wants it before you send it, and skip to the next patron if they don’t.
Happy to keep the discussion going here and answer questions, although with the understanding that I can’t provide specific answers on whether something is legal or not.