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Illegal lottery in furniture promotion under MA law?

I won't mention names, but we've all seen the furniture company that runs the promotions saying if you buy furniture you can get if for free if a sports team wins or if some other thing happens, like a ball hitting a spot on the wall. Isn't that like an illegal lottery under Massachusetts law? I mean, it's essentially a game of chance where you can win a big prize if you're lucky.

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Apparently not.  After the 2008 version of the promotion you discuss (when the Red Sox failed to sweep the world series), one of Jordan's Furniture customers sued the retailer alleging that the promotion was, in fact, an illegal lottery. See Gisela Levin v. Jordan's Furniture, Inc. (2011)

In affirming a lower court's dismissal of her claim, the Massachusetts Appeals Court pointed out that, under Massachusetts law, for a promotion to constitute an illegal lottery, three elements must be present: (1) the payment of a price, (2) a prize, and (3) some element of chance. (citing Mobil Oil Corp. v. Attorney Gen., 361 Mass. 401, 406 (1972)). The parties agreed that the promotion included a prize (free furniture) and that there was an element of chance.  Accordingly, the sole issue was whether "any part of the purchase price of the furniture was paid for the chance to win the rebate.”  The Court pointed out that the Plaintiff had failed to even allege that fact in it's complaint.

Bottom line: Massachusetts companies can engage in sales promotions in which the chance of winning a prize is conditioned on the purchase of a product, as long as no part of the purchase price for the product was paid for the chance to win the prize.  For more general information about MA consumer law issues, visit our Massachusetts Consumer Protection Discussion Forum.  


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