Broken Dreams

Lawmaker calls for regulation of sweepstakes

By PAUL WILBORN, Times Staff Writer

Angered by what he calls "deceptive" and "fraudulent" sweepstakes promotions, a Florida lawmaker said Thursday he will sponsor a bill to regulate the mailings sent by the industry.

"We have to somehow regulate this industry which is fraudulently deceiving thousands of people," said Sen. Walter "Skip" Campbell, D-Tamarac.

Campbell's bill, which is being drafted, would require the industry to print the odds of winning a prize -- often 1-in-200-million -- in the same type size used to describe the prize. The bill also would add civil penalties to sweepstakes companies that target senior citizens.

"There is no doubt in my mind it is a problem with seniors," Campbell said. "But now that I am looking into it the more it seems like it's a problem with everybody."

Campbell said his office had heard from a number of constituents who traveled to Tampa thinking they were sweepstakes winners or who felt they were deceived by sweepstakes promotions. The issue first reached his office through a Times story in October about a 75-year-old Fort Lauderdale woman who flew to Tampa to claim her prize. That story was published in the Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel.

The Times has documented 12 instances in which contestants have flown to Tampa thinking they had won the American Family Publishers sweepstakes. Those entries carry a Tampa return address and are processed by Time Customer Service, a sister company of American Family Publishers, under the Time Warner umbrella.

The company is being investigated for what Attorney General Bob Butterworth has labeled "reprehensible" and "deceptive" trade practices.

Last week, American Family Publishers announced it would voluntarily stop distributing two sweepstakes promotions that Butterworth criticized.

Campbell said his office is working closely with Butterworth's office and with the Division of Consumer Services to draft the bill.

Russ Oster, an aide to Campbell, said the bill would require that sweepstakes promotions not hide disclaimers in small type while touting supposed winnings in large type. Solicitations also would be required to carry an actual address of a sweepstakes company and toll-free numbers of state regulatory agencies so contestants can call with questions or complaints.

Meanwhile, state Rep. Lisa Carlton, R-Sarasota County,also plans to sponsor a bill regulating the sweepstakes industry in the next legislative session, an aide said.

American Family Publishers could not be reached for comment Thursday.

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