FL Puts End to Sweepstakes Registration

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An announcement from Florida last week means one less bureaucratic headache for the good guys in sweepstakes marketing and possibly one less barrier for the bad guys.

The Florida Legislature failed to provide funding for sweepstakes registration in its 1999 fiscal budget. As a result, sweepstakes sponsors no longer have to register contests in Florida that begin after July 1.

Until now, Florida law required sponsors of sweepstakes offering prizes worth more than $5,000 to file a copy of the rules and regulations of the game promotion, a list of all prizes and a $100 nonrefundable filing fee at least seven days before the start of the promotion. The law also required game sponsors to establish a trust account or a surety bond large enough to pay for the total value of all prizes offered at least seven days before the start of a promotion.

It isn't clear whether the legislature's decision is permanent. The earliest that money could be restored would probably be July 1999, when the state's next fiscal year begins.

Florida also will return registrations for games that begin after July 1 with an explanation and will begin terminating or returning all sweepstakes trust accounts and surety bonds on July 1.

Martin J. Cohen, of the law firm Cohen and Silverman and a 10-year board member of the Promotional Marketing Association, both in New York, called the announcement "a bolt out of the blue," adding that Florida's role as a de-facto national sweepstakes consumer watchdog may be diminished.

"Any sponsor that has a propensity to play fast and loose now has another barrier knocked down for them," he said.

However, Michele Guy, assistant general counsel for Florida's Department of State, played down the change.

"You still have to make sure that you're not misleading people and that you're going to pay your prizes. You just don't have to tell us that you're going to be running it," she said.

Guy pointed out that Florida law -- section 849.094, available on the Internet at www.dos.state.fl.us/dol/index.html -- remains in effect and that Florida's attorney general still has the power to go after marketers deemed to be running illegal contests.

"We have very vocal citizens in this state -- and if you rip one of them off or make them angry, they'll go to the attorney general about it. That hasn't changed," Guy said.

Jerry Shereshewsky, vice president of marketing at online sweepstakes marketer Yoyodyne Entertainment Inc., Irvington, NY, also said little will change.

"Nobody's going to be able to get away with anything weird," he said. "All it means is one less pain in our collective tushes."

Publishers Clearinghouse, Port Washington, NY, declined to comment, and American Family Enterprises, Jersey City, NJ, did not return a call for comment.

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