Scratch off coupons: Legal?

Got a scratch off thingey to celebrate the 40th anniversary of a local drugstore. You know, where they send you this scratch off card and announce that it can be anywhere from 40 cents off, $4.00 off, 40% off, etc. It said to wait til I got to the register to scratch it off, but curiosity killed the cat and I scratched away.

Woohoo! Got $40 off my next purchase.

Of course, then I thought, shit, are they really going to hold me to the “Wait until you get to the cashier to scatch it off” stipulation? Because I already scratched it off. And since I already see that I’m getting $40 off, I’m definitely planning to get at least $40 in merchandise. The fine print says that they won’t give change if my coupon exceeds the purchase price.

And then I thought, can they do that? Surely there’s something in the UCC that says I have to know how much I’m expected to fork out for any given merchandise! Lazarus can’t put a sweater on the rack that says, “Price varies. Go see the cashier and scratch off the price tag. It might be anywhere from free to $75 dollars.” I mean, surely that would be illegal. How do I know if I can afford something if I don’t know the final price until I’m at the register?

So, I’m wondering if they can legally enforce the stipulation that I have to wait to scratch it off in front of the cashier. Anyone know?

If they couldn’t enforce it, why would they even make the stipulation? If it’s illegal, why doesn’t someone arrest them for it (and it’s a fairly common marketing ploy; I’ve never heard of any store being punished for doing it).

I’d guess that it’s by nature a contract. They will give you the amount off on the purchase IF the cashier scratches it off. That’s the stipulation, and, like any contract, you have to go along with the stipulations to get it.

Now the bigger issue is whether this is a lottery or not. AFAIK no one has called them on that.

I don’t think it’s a lottery because you don’t pay for those coupons. That’s why all those snack-food giveaways and such say in tiny tiny print, “No purchase necessary. For no-cost entry, send SASE to…”

And of course, in Canada they’d make you answer a math question.

Way back when in broadcasting, we were taught by the FCC that sales promotions which were lotteries were illegal and that the three legs of a lottery were Prize, Chance and Consideration. If any of the three were missing, the promotion was not an illegal lottery.

In the example above, there is a consideration (the cost of the item or items you have to purchase to get a discount) and a prize (the discount) but not chance (since everyone who buys a product gets a discount). There is the illusion of chance, since the amount of the discount varies, but since every purchaser is assured of a discount of somekind, the “chance” element vanishes, and the promotion is legal.

Why IS that? Does it have to do with some legal stipulation that requires you to do at least something to earn the money?

Yes. In Canada, you can’t win a prize without some display of skill. So they ask a simple math question to get around it.

Good analysis, but I was thinking of a ruling back in the 60s that made it illegal to mix gum and prizes in a gumball machine because it was a lottery.

To explain, there used to be gumball machines. You put in a penny and would either get a gumball or a cheap plastic prize (I guess it might be possible that there was actually a more valuable prize in the bunch). These were ruled games of chance. For awhile they put a mirror in the machine so you could see what you were getting, but then they phased out that sort of machine: either it was gum or it was a cheap plastic prize.

I could see how that ruling could apply here. In both cases, you are required to spend money in order to get your prize. But there is definitely a chance element about what prize you get, just like in the gumball machines.

It could simply be a matter of no one being willing to press the issue.

I checked and the official rules say, “Scratch your game piece at the register to find out what discount you have won.”

There is no rule that says, “Only items placed in your cart at the time of the revelation are eligible for the discount. You cannot go back and add more items to your cart.” Conversely, there is no rule that states “One must purchase the item regardless of the discount.” Surely that wouldn’t be enforceable.

So I suppose that when they run promotions that include huge awards such as up to $1000 off, one could be an ass and plop $1000 worth of merchandise on the counter just in case. Then when the sales clerk scratches off the discount, they could then decide if they want some, none or all of the merchandise given the new price after discount. I’m sure the clerk wouldn’t appreciate it, but hey, I want to know how much I’m paying for an item before I decide whether I want to fork out my hard-earned cash for it.

A department store where I used to live did this once or twice a year. They’d blanket the neighbourhood ahead of time with scratch-off coupons that stipulated a few things:

– Each coupon gave a discount of some kind. It might be ten percent off, it might be twenty, thirty, forty, or fifty; or it might be your purchase free.

– The coupons were only valid on a certain day at the store; they would not be accepted or honored on any other day.

– The coupon had to be surrendered when you made your purchase. If you found that it was a “free” one when you bought a small item, you couldn’t keep it and run off to the TV and stereo department.

– The store salesperson had to be the one to do the scratching. A pre-scratched coupon would not be honored at the sales desk.

Their offer, their rules. So I went along with them when I needed things. I think once, I got some nice golf shirts at 30% off, but mostly, I ended up with the 10% coupons.

The only reason I could think of for these rules was that you couldn’t plan in advance. If I knew ahead of time that I’d get my goods for free (or at a hefty discount, like 50%), well maybe it’s time to get that big TV I’ve been wanting. And if all the items I select that day are free or heavily-discounted, why then I might call the neighbours and see what they need too. We’ll all get big-ticket items for nothing (or next to nothing) as long as I claim to be buying them and I present my pre-scratched coupon.

Having the sales clerk do the scratching not only kept people from planning to clean the store out of big-ticket items; but it also prevented people from having the time or the inclination to try counterfeiting or changing the coupons to give a discount other than what they were designed to.

Anyway, that’s my WAG and my opinion as to the reasons why.

ElwoodCuse, I am in Canada, and I don’t recall that these coupons had any kind of skill-testing question. They were discount coupons, plain and simple, which are perfectly legal here. Chance would come into play if only some offered a discount, but each one had a discount of some kind, so the element of chance was removed. The only question was, how much was the discount?

I wonder if anyone goes to the cashier in the t.v. dept. and says, “Ring me up for a big screen t.v. But I warn you that if that scratch off card isn’t at least 50% off, I’m going to change my mind.”

I’m not trying to be assholic, I’m just trying to see how a store can get away with not letting you know how much they’re going to charge for an item until you pay for it. Seems like it flies in the face of consumer protection laws.

Hey, I did. Only it was a piece of furniture, not a TV, and I didn’t say, “Ring it up;” I asked if we could check before any transaction took place.

One scratch-off day, I was looking at a piece of furniture. It was more than I wanted to pay, but it was scratch-off day, so it might be worth a try. When the sales clerk asked if I wanted it, I held up my card and said, “Only if this is 40% or more.”

He said, “Well, let’s see,” and scratched. It was 10%.

“We’ll try again,” he said, and pulled a fresh card from his jacket. It was 10% too.

We must have tried about twenty cards, none of which reached my stipulated figure. So I didn’t get the furniture.

I guess my point is that I wasn’t trapped into paying more than I expected to for an item. I could read the undiscounted price on the tag on the furniture, and I stated the conditions under which I’d buy it (“If I get a 40%-or-more-off card, I will buy it”); and the salesman agreed to check the card before any transaction took place–this was OK, since he, a store employee, was doing the scratching. And as things turned out, since I didn’t use the now-void cards to buy anything, he was also nice enough to give me a replacement fresh card, in case I felt like buying things from other departments that day.

Note that I did have the option at any time to ignore the cards, and buy the item for its full advertised and tagged price; all the cards were going to do was to tell me how much less than that I’d be paying. Maybe what we were really doing with all the cards and scratching was negotiating price before reaching an agreement, but we never did reach that agreement, so there was no deal. But at any rate, I knew the maximum I’d have to pay if I chose to buy the item–and that if I used a card, it would certainly be less.

Update: Went shopping today to spend my $40 off coupon. I did a fair amount of browsing but loitered close to the cashier to see how she handled the discount cards.

The first lady walks up with her little basket and the cashier rings her up and asks, “Do you have a scratch-off card?” The woman says no and the cashier hands her one and says, “You might as well try. You’ll get at least 40 cents off.” The woman scratches off the card and says, “10% off. Well, that’s nice.”

Second customer walks up with a card, hands it to the cashier with her basket and announces, “I have a buy one, get on free” coupon. Cashier takes the card, “oh, wonderful!” and proceeds to ring her up.

The next man doesn’t have a coupon and doesn’t want to scratch one off, thankyouverymuch.

The older gentleman in front of me in line looks in both pant pockets and finally his shirt pocket to find his discount card. He hands it to the cashier, who looks at it and rings him up. I have no idea how much it’s worth because she doesn’t announce it and I can’t see the display. He obviously had already scratched it off.

So, I think, cool, most people have already scratched theirs off so I should have no problem. I hand the cashier my basket and proceed to take out my card. While she is ringing up my dozen or so items, I place the card on the counter and scratch it again for good measure, just in case. She has no way of knowing that I had already scratched it off at home. She tells me the total ($64) and I hand her the card. She looks at it and frowns. She scratches it again to see if there is a decimal in front of the 4. Nope. She looks at my total ($64), looks at me, and you can tell that she is suspicious that I did exactly what I did. She calls for the manager to input a special code and says to me, nicely, “Ma’am, in the future, you’ll need to let one of us scratch off the cards as is written very plainly on the coupon.”

I raise my eyebrow and say, “I don’t think it says that.”

She points to the card and says, “It says it right here.”

I read aloud, “‘Scratch your game piece at the register.’ It doesn’t say a cashier has to do it.”

You can tell she wants to tell me that she knows I didn’t scratch it off for the first time at the counter. But how could possibly prove it? “Well, just know that next time a cashier should do it.”

Yeah, right. Let’s see them try to enforce the “just know” rule.

End result: she gave me the $40 off and I’m pretty convinced she would have honored it even had I not put on the charade that I scratched it off at the register. So I’m happy.

However, there’s still the issue that had she NOT honored it, could I have successfully pressed the point that she was inconsistent in how she treated the customers. The ones with insubstantial discounts were not made to follow the rules nor were they given a lecture about the rules. In fact, I witnessed her handing the first customer the card to scratch off herself. She didn’t scratch it off.

So while I’m definitely not looking for more lawsuits in this country, it does make me wonder how their marketing ploy would stand up in court. And would it matter if they cheerfully bent the rules for those with insignificant discounts and only enforced the rules on the significant ones.

Um, nitpick-the CASHIER is not the one being inconsistant. The COMPANY is.

Do NOT lay the blame on the cashier, who has no control over this.

(Wondering-could one shine a flash light behind one’s card to see under the scratch stuff?)

Guin, yes the cashier is being inconsistent. She handed the card for one woman to scratch off herself, but insisted that she (the cashier) should have scratched off mine.

Oh well, then I appologize for misreading it. My bad!