Note: Since their 2020 Dream Home Giveaway, HGTV has no longer accepted mail-in entries, so only the online portion of this article is still valid. However, it's still interesting to know how they merged entries from two different entry methods for so long.
The Scripps Networks' big annual home giveaways, including the HGTV Dream Home Sweepstakes and the DIY Ultimate Retreat Giveaway, receive millions upon millions of entries from people who are yearning to win a lovingly-created designer home.
Selecting one winner's name from among 100 million entries or more is extremely complicated. To make things even harder, for many years, they accepted entries via two methods, online and through the postal service. How did Scripps Network manage all of those entries and still select a winner fairly? Did entrants really have the same odds of winning whether they entered online or by mail?
It's vital to the Scripps Network's reputation to avoid any appearance of running a sweepstakes scam or a rigged game. They're under heavy scrutiny to ensure they award their enormous prizes in a way that shows no favoritism, is easy to understand, and doesn't let even one of those millions of entries slip through the cracks.
To ensure that their winner selection process was above reproach, Scripps used a three-step method to ensure that all entries were counted and that the winner was drawn fairly and totally randomly. Here's how it worked:
Step 1. Divided All Entries Into Bins With Assigned Bin Numbers
As entries came in, they were separated into batches based on the order in which they were received. The batches were then placed into bins. Typically, each bin contained between 26,000 and 50,000 entries. Each bin was assigned a number.
Mail-in entries were placed into physical bins while online entries were assigned virtual bins. Virtual bins were simply groups of online entries that were grouped into a single bin number.
Step 2: A Bin Number Was Drawn From a Hopper
Next, they narrowed the field of entries and came closer to deciding the final winner. The first step was to select the bin that contained the winning entry. To do this, they used a process similar to the lottery drawings broadcast on television.
Each bin's number was written on a ping pong ball. The balls were then placed into a hopper, which mixed all the balls together then randomly selected one ball. The number on that ball indicated the winning bin.
By the end of the second step, the number of potential winners were reduced from tens of millions to tens of thousands of entries.
Step 3: The Winning Entry Was Chosen From the Lucky Bin
The next step depended on whether the bin number selected in Step 2 belonged to a physical or a virtual bin.
If the selected number belonged to a physical bin, HGTV or Ritway employees tipped the bin over so all of the envelopes ended up on the floor. Then they chose one employee, blindfolded them, and sent that person into the mass of envelopes to reach down and pick one up. The selected envelope belonged to the potential winner.
If the ping pong ball from the hopper contained a number that belongs to a virtual bin, a computer program began to cycle through all of the qualifying names so quickly that it was impossible to read the names. The person selected to do the drawing then pressed the space bar, which caused the computer to stop on one name at random. That randomly-chosen name was the potential winner.
Oversight Helps Ensure Fairness
To ensure fairness, there were auditors and inspectors at the drawing who make sure that everything was done properly. These officials checked the ping pong balls before the drawing, watched the proceedings, and verified that everything was above board.
Both before and after the changes made in 2020, the winner selection process wasn't handled by the Scripps Network directly, but rather by a sweepstakes administrator. For many years, Scripps has used Ritway to administrate their drawings. Using a sweepstakes administrator ensures there's no conflict of interest between the sponsor and the winner.
To give its entrants more insight into how their winners are selected, Scripps has also created some videos about the process. If you'd like to check out this information, watch this video of the HGTV Dream Home Winner Drawing Process.
How Scripps Network's Winners Are Notified
After the HGTV Dream Home winner's name is selected, their informationis verified to ensure that the winner was eligible to enter and does not need to be disqualified.
The winner is then notified, usually by an ambush-style announcement where representatives of the Scripps Networks show up at the winner's home, place of business, or family gathering. However, winners can also be notified by registered mail.
The dates of the winner selection process and when the winners will be notified can be found in the rules of the big giveaways from Scripps.