Are contest odds actually true?

This issue has been baffling me for a while now- finally I just had to crack down, join this board and hopefully get some answers!

Here in Canada, it is Roll Up the Rim time again at Tim Hortons. This contest is very popular, and I’m sure the average rate of coffee consumption at least triples during the brief month or so that it runs. When the odds are about 1 in 8 that you’ll win a free coffee or muffin, with a chance to win cars, laptops and cash, it’s rather difficult to resist! Tim Hortons also advertises its winners in their coffee shops, online and on TV- that Shirley from Sydney won a car, or Bobby from Bracebridge won coffee for a year, that kind of thing.

Maybe I’m paranoid, but how does we know that the odds they advertise are actually true? Is there some sort of federal regulatory body that inspects the coffee cups as they are printed to ensure X number of car-winning cups are available? Is there any way to verify these odds, other than taking the corporation’s word for it?

Could Tim Hortons just be printing a few thousand free coffee/free muffin cups, and combining it with an elaborate advertising campaign where they hire actors to pretend they’ve won a car? Maybe it isn’t that bad, but what’s to stop Timmie’s from only giving out 5 instead of 40 cars? What if the contest started out with real winners and accurate odds, but over time, as the corporation gained the trust of the people, they started fiddling around with it to increase their profit margin? When would or how could we know the contest was a sham?

A contest as large as this couldn’t be a complete fraud, I don’t think, but certainly Tim Hortons are in a place to fix the odds in their favour. What’s to stop them, or any other host of a large contest, for that matter?

I look forward to reading some comments about this…as soon as I get back from my trip to Timmies (I swear they put addicting substances in the coffee, but that’s for another post :p)

Typically such a contest falls under lottery rules, so it is certainly regulated. And as you say, there would be an inherent conflict of interest if the company ran their own contest, so they usually contract with an outside agency to distribute the game pieces and redeem the prizes.

So yes, the odds are exactly as described. They have to be.

I think part of the question was how do they figure out those odds.

Fair enough.

They figure out the odds of winning by the number of entries if it’s a drawing. There’s no way to give any odds of winning in that case because they change every time a valid entry is received.

If it’s a ticket-type game the odds are calculated by the number of prizes of a certain type divided by the number of tickets printed. When you see something that says you have a 1 in 8 chance of winning a free drink or the like that means that one out of every eight tickets printed will have that prize.

nitpick, but you probably already intuitively know this…

it means that 1 in 8 on average will win a free drink, not that if you buy 8 cups exactly 1 will win a free drink.

I work for a company that does contests, and YES - the odds are as stated - and the rules must be vetted by lawyers, and third party companies are contracted so that there are not any conflicts of interest.

Another company will take care of printing, verifying and ensuring there is exactly X winning game pieces, in the total number of playing pieces - and that those are randomly seeded before they get out on the market.

That being said, a company may want to distribute prizes over different regions, so say for instance - here in Canada if they have 13 high level prizes - they may want one redeemed in each province/territory - so although the odds Canada may be exactly as stated, they have sent one piece out to each region, and if you are in Ontario, with a higher population, your odds are lower than if you were in PEI with a low population.

By the way, the full rules for Roll up the rim are here:

It appears they have the large prizes seeded per region, but they don’t seem to specify that the coffee & donut prizes are seeded regionally.

I think it’s just a somewhat ambiguous way of saying “Out of all tickets printed, 1 in 8 will contain a ‘free drink’ prize.”

Of course that assumes that all the winning pieces are distributed by the time the contest is over.

Suppose, for example, that one of the winning cups goes to a store in Toronto, the store catches fire and is destroyed. If the contest is being run properly, no one will know that a winning cup was burned up, it won’t be replaced and the odds will change.

But that’s an act of God, not an act of rigging the contest.

Also real redemption rates are far lower - many people never redeem their prizes, even large prizes. With the little ones, many people never get around to cashing in their free coffees & donuts.

Someone right now may have a coffee cup sitting under their car seat which they never rolled up the rim, that may have one of the vehicles as a prize, or they could have chucked the cup out, or they know they are not eligible because their daughter works at a Tim Hortons and they can not claim the prize.

I’ve heard most contests have a redemption rate under 70% and the average redemption rate is about 3% - so even with the popularity of the Roll Up the Rim contest, I doubt that all the prizes are claimed.

Actually, the odds will not change. If the odds of winning a drink are 1 in 8 and 8000 tickets are printed, there are 1000 winners out there somewhere. Some are not redeemed, some are discarded, some are lost, and some are destroyed. That does not change the published odds because they printed 8000 tickets and their statement of odds is absolutely correct. What happens outside of their control changes nothing about the truth of their claims.

I know I’ve seen on some contests where the unclaimed prizes (maybe only the “large” ones) are redeemed in a second chance drawing. I think you had to send in losing tickets.

In the US, there is a whole contesting subculture, with newsletters and the like. My wife did this for a while after our first child was born. It seemed that there were a few companies which were contracted to run the contests - the prize redemptions all went to the same place. Do you work for one of them? She never got a hint of any cheating or unfairness. Certainly, it is not to anyone’s benefit to cheat.

We do the online components of contests and sweeps all over the US, Canada, and even Europe and Asia. We do everything from sports pools, collect and wins, instant wins, sweeps and more. We work with a promotional risk coverage coverage company and there are numerous safe guards in place to even ensure that us employees don’t even have an advantage.

Sweepers are the best users of a contest, they understand the rules, and play by them - and if they have feedback, it is usually constructive because they play a large number of contests!

It is VERY above board of an industry, yet because many people don’t understand odds or the rules, we still get users of the contests thinking things are fixed.

We also get the occasional user who violates the rules, for example using a bot to enter multiple times when the rules clearly state that only one entry per household is permitted, who then cry foul when they are disqualified.

The thing is most companies (and ourselves) want users to win prizes. It makes for good press for both the client company and our own to say that X number of prizes were given out!