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Understanding Lotteries, Competitions, and Prize Draws in the UK: Legal Framework

In the United Kingdom, promotional activities like lotteries, competitions, and prize draws are common marketing tools used by businesses to attract customers. However, these activities are governed by specific laws and regulations to ensure fairness and transparency. Understanding the differences between these promotions and the relevant legal framework is crucial for business.

Lotteries: A Game of Chance

Definition and Legal Framework

A lottery in the UK is defined as a scheme where participants pay to enter for a chance to win prizes, and the winners are chosen by a process relying wholly on chance. Lotteries are generally illegal unless they are licensed. Genuine prize competitions in which participants must exercise skill and judgment are not considered lotteries as the chance aspect of winning is removed. Prize draws are also considered not to be lotteries as participants do not pay to enter.

Applicable Law

The primary legislation governing lotteries is the Gambling Act 2005. Section 14 provides a definition of lotteries. Under this Act, lotteries are regulated to ensure they are not a source of crime, are conducted fairly, and protect children and vulnerable people. Commercial lotteries are generally illegal unless licensed or registered.

Competitions: Skill and Judgment

Definition and Legal Framework

Competitions in the UK are promotional events where the winners are determined by skill, judgment, or knowledge. This could include essay contests, quizzes, or photography competitions.

Applicable Law

Competitions are generally not considered gambling under the Gambling Act 2005, as winning depends on skill, not chance. Care should be exercised to ensure that skill and judgement aspect does not involve guessing the result of a sporting event, race or other event as this may amount to betting and be subject to the Gambling Act’s rules on betting. Competitions must comply with the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008, ensuring they are not misleading or unfair to consumers.

Prize Draws: Luck with a Touch of Skill

Definition and Legal Framework

Prize draws are a hybrid between lotteries and competitions. Participants generally enter for free, and winners are chosen at random, but there may be an element of skill in the entry process.

Applicable Law

Prize draws are not regulated under the Gambling Act 2005 if no payment is required to enter. However, under the Gambling Act it is possible to charge participants the cost of postage, a telephone call (not premium call numbers) or the normal price of a product for entry. Such a cost for entry does not require licensing or permission under the Gambling Act.

Where the prize draw is open to all participants, all participants must have an equal chance of winning, and the prizes awarded must be randomly allocated. The promoter of a prize draw can choose to restrict entry however the conditions of this must be clearly stated in the promotion.

Prize draws must adhere to the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008 and the UK version of the General Data Protection Act for handling personal data.

The Role of the Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP)

The UK Code of Non-Broadcast Advertising and Direct & Promotional Marketing (CAP Code) specifies the rules for non-broadcast advertising and sales promotions in the UK. CAP is a self-regulatory body that creates, revises and amends the CAP Code. The CAP Code is enforced by the Advertising Standards Authority who can require that non-compliant adverts or promotions are taken down or amended.

CAP Code Chapter 8

The CAP Code, particularly Chapter 8, plays a crucial role in regulating prize promotions. It sets out the rules for conducting promotional activities, ensuring they are run responsibly and transparently. The CAP Code requires promoters to provide clear terms and conditions, avoid misleading participants, and award prizes as described. The CAP code requires significant conditions and information to be displayed in all marketing communications, this includes the following terms:

  • How to participate
  • Restrictions on the number of entries
  • The opening and closing date of the promotion
  • In competitions, the criteria and process for determining winners
  • If there is a cash alternative to the main prize
  • How and when winners will be notified
  • When and how prize winners will receive their prize
  • Use of the winners for publicity purposes
  • Ownership of copyright in the entries

Key Takeaways

  • Lotteries: Governed by the Gambling Act 2005, rely on chance and participants pay to enter, and are generally restricted unless licensed.
  • Competitions: Based on skill, regulated under consumer protection laws, and are not considered gambling.
  • Prize Draws: Free to enter, winners chosen by chance, regulated by consumer protection laws and data protection regulations. Again are not considered to be gambling.
  • CAP Code: Ensures fair and transparent promotional practices, with specific guidelines under Chapter 8.


Navigating the legal landscape of lotteries, competitions, and prize draws in the UK can be complex. Businesses planning to run such promotions must adhere to the relevant laws and regulations to ensure compliance, avoid sanctions and to maintain consumer trust.

Kelly Logan

Founder and Managing Partner

More about Kelly

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