Sweepstakes addicts work hard for their money. No, really, they do.
EACH day around 8am, retired grandmother and occasional actress Mary Lu Marr flips on the TV, pulls out her trusty laptop and gets to work at her “part-time job”.
For the next few hours, the Californian will enter hundreds of sweepstakes (or lucky draws, as Malaysians call them), filling out forms and transcribing product codes. This has been her hobby for more than 40 years, and persistence has paid off – she has won cruises, a car, home theatres, even a year’s supply of Godiva chocolates.
Her latest haul came in February with a US$50,000 (RM163,000) grand prize from lunch meat maker Carl Buddig.
“I really don’t know anyone else who does it like I do,” Marr says. “It’s obsessive.”
But she isn’t alone. Industry experts believe there may be hundreds of thousands of Americans just like her. They even have a word for the phenomenon: “sweepers”.
“The term ‘sweeper’ is someone who enters sweepstakes as a hobby,” explains Carolyn “The Contest Queen” Wilman, a Canadian author of two books on the subject and avid daily sweeper. “It’s no different than sitting around with trains or coins or whatever people do for fun, except ours can take you on crazy adventures.”
An estimated 55 million Americans enter sweepstakes each year, according to one industry guide. And thanks to the Internet, what once took extreme sweepers much time and postage is now as easy as a few clicks of the mouse.
To keep tabs on giveaways, sweepers turn to online or print newsletters. Craig McDaniel, aka “Mr Sweepy”, is president and founder of Sweepstakes Today. His free online newsletter boasts 300,000 members, of whom about 3% enter between 50 and 100 giveaways each day, he says. Their average age is 45, and three-quarters are female.
“We get a regular following who are virtually addicted to sweepstakes,” McDaniel says. “They’ve replaced buying a lottery ticket with entering contests. That’s how addicted they are.”
Californian Robert Hoffman is an extreme sweeper and a believer. He has lifetime sweep earnings of more than US$1mil (RM3.27mil).
On a typical morning, he rises before dawn, grabs a cup of joe, and starts on his sweeps. Then, armed with envelopes and contest announcements, he boards the train for work in San Francisco, signing up for more along the route. He mails in more than a dozen entries a day, as well as 50 to 100 more online. “You can’t win if you don’t enter,” he says.
Hoffman first got hooked in the 1970s, winning a gas station drawing for free fuel. He’s since gone on dozens of free getaways, including to Hong Kong, and he has also been to the Super Bowl, American football’s championship game; won gas for life; and driven a NASCAR on the Charlotte Motor Speedway, among others.
His latest win went to his son – a basketball shoot-around with Stephen Curry of the Golden State Warriors, a Californian basketball team.
Nothing comes free, though; Hoffman spends thousands on mailings each year. One year, his tax bill on wins topped US$35,000 (RM114,000).
Though the rewards can be plentiful, Hoffman says it takes a special person to stick with it. “There’s a lot of people who want to learn how to get something for nothing. The fact is that there’s a lot of work and money that goes into it,” he says. “If you do this more than two years, chances are you have an obsessive, addictive personality, just because of the sheer magnitude of what you need to do.”
He could be talking about Marr, who bought cold cuts “by the armful” for months to reel in her US$50,000 (RM163,000) grand prize. She says she’ll spend those winnings on a Mexican cruise with her sons and six grandkids.
“I think people are sceptical about it at first,” she says, “until they see you win.” – Contra Costa Times/McClatchy-Tribune Information Services