Sweepstakes Drawings: A Look at How Giveaway Winners Are Chosen

Know How Sweepstakes Drawings Work to Boost Your Odds of Being a Winner

woman using laptop at home
••• MoMo Productions / Getty Images

If you want to be a giveaway winner, it helps to know all of the ways that you can tweak the odds to be in your favor. For example, have you ever wondered if you could improve your chances of winning sweepstakes by entering at a specific time of the day? 

To answer this question, it helps to know how sweepstakes drawings work and how winners are chosen. Once you know those details, you can tailor your entries to give you a better chance at being picked as the giveaway's winner.

The Giveaway Winner's Name Is Drawn from a Mail Bag or Other Container

When sweepstakes accept entries by mail, a simple way to draw the winner is to simply pick a name by hand. 

As envelopes for mail-in sweepstakes arrive, they are sorted into bags. When it's time to pick the giveaway winner's name, a bag is chosen at random. A person then reaches into that bag, pulls an envelope, and opens it. The person whose envelope was picked is then the potential winner (subject to verification).

Giveaways where you drop an entry blank into a box work in a similar way. The winner is often drawn by having an employee of the company sponsoring the giveaway reach blindly into a box and pick an entry form at random.

When the giveaway winner is chosen by manually picking an envelope or an entry form, you can't tweak your odds of winning by picking a specific time of day to enter. You have no way of knowing which mailbag your entry will be placed into or which will be chosen to draw the winner. 

There are some tricks that you can try to help you get an edge over the competition, however. Some mail-in sweepers swear by decorating the envelopes of their entry forms. The idea is that someone glancing into the mailbag might be attracted to an envelope that is brightly colored, has a cute or funny picture on it, or is flattering to the company sponsoring the giveaway.

Another strategy is to make your envelope or entry form stand out by feeling different when a person is reaching into a bag to draw the winner. You can do this by adding texture to your envelope or by crumpling or folding your entry form into accordion pleats.

The Giveaway's Winning Entry Chosen Is Chosen by a Random Number

This is the most common way to pick giveaway winners. Each entry into the giveaway is assigned a number in the order in which it is received. Numbers are assigned to every entry, whether it is sent online, by mail, or through another entry method. On the drawing date, a number from 1 to the last entry number is chosen by random. The entry that corresponds to that number is the giveaway's winner.

See How HGTV Chooses Dream Home Winners for more details about how a famous giveaway uses this method to choose its winners.

This method of drawing winners can be used for online entries, mail-in sweepstakes, or sweepstakes with a variety of different entry methods making it both fair and flexible.

It's not easy to tweak this entry method to give yourself an advantage. There's no way to know ahead of time which number to pick. Instead, you should focus on maximizing the number of entries that you can legally receive to boost your odds of winning.

The Winner Is the First to Enter After a Randomly-Chosen Time

This entry method is commonly used to choose the winners of instant win sweepstakes. The idea is that a specific time (or times) is chosen before the giveaway begins. The first entry made after that winning moment is the giveaway's winner.

This method of choosing winners works best when multiple prizes are being awarded. Otherwise, if the randomly-selected time is too early, people will be entering until the giveaway ends with no chance of winning.

Although it is impossible to know which winning times will be chosen in advance, there is also another element to winning instant sweepstakes: how many people are entering at any given time.

If thousands of people are entering sweepstakes at the same time, you have to hit the winning time nearly to the second to be the winner. But during slow periods of entry, there might be several minutes after the winning time when no one enters. Thus, your window of opportunity is wider if you enter during slow times.

Because winning entry times are just as likely to be in the middle of the night as during the afternoon, entering when fewer other people are entering improves your chances of being picked as the winner. Entry times for instant win sweepstakes do matter, but only slightly. No matter how many people are entering, you still have to be lucky enough to play around the winning time.

So you may have a slight edge if you enter instant win sweepstakes when fewer people are also entering, such as late at night, on holidays, or during big events like the Super Bowl that will keep a significant number of people away from their computers.

But remember that people do win at all times of the day. You shouldn't exhaust yourself by getting too little sleep or give up on instants altogether if you can't enter during non-peak times. That kind of destructive behavior is a warning sign of a gambling addiction.

Entering a Giveaway Shortly After It Starts Might Give You an Advantage

Giveaways that have multiple drawings, like those that give away prizes every day or every week, give an advantage to people who enter shortly after they begin.

For one thing, you can get chances to win every prize when you start right away. But you also have better chances to win before the word starts to spread and more and more people start to enter. In many cases, the odds of winning in the first days or weeks are significantly higher.

It's also a good idea to remember that now and then, a giveaway stops accepting entries a bit earlier than their rules state. For that reason, try not to wait until the last minute to enter those sweepstakes. It's better to get your entries in early and avoid the risk of getting shut out.