Does anyone ever actually get the house, car, etc., offered in those big sweepstakes?

Dear Cecil:

I often receive sweepstakes notices offering spectacular prizes like trips around the world, Rolls-Royces, houses, and the like. But I notice the contest rules usually allow grand-prize winners to take either the prize or a cash equivalent, which often appears to be worth more than the prize. I always wonder why anyone would take the prize over the money if they had a choice. Does anyone? And why?

Cecil replies:

There are probably some contest winners who take the prize instead of the money, but not many, and that’s just the way the sponsors like it. They’d much rather write out a check than go to all the hassle of actually delivering on some of their gaudier offerings, and fortunately most people would rather take the dough than try to fit a pink Cadillac (or whatever) into their lifestyles. Publishers Clearing House, for instance, says that every single winner of the $250,000 custom-built homes it used to offer opted for the money instead. So why offer noncash prizes at all? Because offering only cash would be boring — you want to give people something tangible they can fantasize about. This isn’t to say the whole thing is a fraud; contest sponsors are fully prepared to deliver on their promises if they have to. They just hope they never do.

Send questions to Cecil via

Comment on this Column