Monday, October 19, 2015

Essay contests to award rural property creating headaches for owners and claims of cheating

A growing rural trend of using an essay contest to sell off property is creating big cash rewards for owners—who rake in the dough from entry fees—but is creating headaches for winners, who say they are being harassed from losing entrants who claim the contests were rigged, Katie Rogers reports for The New York Times. (Associated Press photo by Robert F. Bukaty: The Center Lovell Inn in Maine was won in an essay contest.)

For instance, Janice Sage, who gained ownership in 1993 of the Center Lovell Inn in Maine from an essay contest in which she paid $100, decided to use the same method to sell it, Rogers writes. Sage netted more than $906,000 from the contest from more than 7,000 entries, with Prince Adams getting the property for a $125 essay entry fee.

"The announcement of a winner drew so many accusations that the contest was rigged that a Facebook group called the Center Lovell Contest Fair Practices Commission was established," Rogers writes. "Fifteen complaints were lodged with the Maine attorney general’s office, which led to an inquiry by the State Police. The agency spent four weeks reviewing the rules, the selection process and complaints about the 1993 contest, which had prompted its own inquiry. It determined that Sage had run a game of skill, which is legal in the state, and not a game of luck like a lottery, which is not."

While Sage's problems have ended, the same can't be said for Adams, Rogers writes. He said he is "still being harassed by people who thought that they should have won the inn or that he had broken the rules." He also said losing entrants have bombarded websites with poor reviews of the inn.

Despite the troubles Sage and Adams endured, the trend doesn't seem to be coming to an end any time soon, Rogers writes. "Bil Mosca, the host of the 1993 contest for the inn, said he had fielded up to 12 phone calls a month from homeowners who wanted advice" on similar endeavors. Karim Lakhani, an associate professor who studies online communities and contests at Harvard Business School, said the risk is low and the reward is high. Lakhani told Rogers, “This looks like a lottery. From the participation point of view, it’s ‘I can put in a few hundred bucks and get a chance to get a house.’ Who wouldn’t want to do that?” (Read more)

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