Lawsuit Says Verizon's Text Message TV Show Contests Are "Illegal Gambling"

A class-action lawsuit has been filed in California against Verizon and several third-party companies, alleging that they promoted illegal gambling by enticing customers to pay to enter contests in which there was an “infinitesimally” small chance of winning, reports RCRWireless. “The suit centers on 99-cent charges levied on wireless consumers who played contests associated with popular TV shows like ‘Deal or No Deal’ and ‘Sole Survivor.’” The plaintiffs claim that the contests were less promotional sweepstakes than “illegal lotteries designed to generate revenues far in excess of the value of the cash awarded.”

Because the issue doesn’t implicate Verizon’s subscriber contracts, the plaintiffs claim the carrier’s arbitration clause isn’t enforceable.

“Suit alleges Verizon Wireless text service amounts to illegal gambling” [RCR Wireless]
(Photo: Jeff Kubina)

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  1. huadpe says:

    Didn’t California rule mandatory binding arbitration on non-negotiated contracts to be unconscionable? They shouldn’t have to demonstrate that the clause doesn’t cover arbitration. The arbitration clause is unenforcable in California.

  2. ExtraCelestial says:

    That. is. genius!

  3. Jesus…. seriously… I am a stone-cold slot machine addict… I mean like to where I should be going to meetings. [happilybitter.wordpress.com] Damn I wish I hadn’t just spent all my money on drugs….

  4. Anonymous says:

    Let me see know, Did somebody come into the “victims” house and force them to dial?

  5. Crazytree says:

    @wideawake: love your logic.

    the reality is… would they have played if they knew their chances of winning were 1 in 1,000,000?

  6. TechnoDestructo says:

    @wideawake:

    Gee, why aren’t you running a lottery, then? You could make a killing!

  7. Riddar says:

    I always wondered how those were legal. I wouldn’t say unethical (the announcer clearly and loudly says the charge, its written in visible text, etc), but it IS gambling in a way.

    They even have these shows late-night tv, just hours of commercial free ‘game’ shows where people call in to win a few hundred dollars here and there, at a cost of 99 cents a try.

  8. TheUncleBob says:

    This is just another case of people needing to be responsible for their own actions.

  9. goodywitch says:

    Can the defendants argue that they are providing a service for the convenience of not turning on the computer to enter the contests? (I believe that you can enter free online, so you don’t HAVE to pay to join, like, say, the lottery…)

  10. JeffM says:

    @TheUncleBob:
    Disagree- there is all sorts of illegal shit I could do to swindle people out of their money. I agree to the individuals it is caveat emptor- but for me it is still illegal for me to be swindling folks out of their money.

  11. nequam says:

    @TheUncleBob: What does that have to do with whether it is illegal in the first place? We’re sort of beyond the value judgment here.

  12. eelmonger says:

    @goodywitch: I think you’re right. If coke is running a contest, most people enter by buying coke, but they always have the “no purchase necessary” option of sending a postcard or something in. So isn’t this the same thing, replacing coke with text messages and postcards with the internet.

  13. chrisbacke says:

    Sure, you could play online for free – if you could get on the website. I tried playing the DOND game on nbc.com when it first came out. Turns out I couldn’t even get the page to load – it was so busy from the onslaught of traffic. Technically speaking, it was possible to enter for free if you stuck at it for long enough, so I guess that might slip through.

    The people who paid money might have a case to get some of those charges reversed. When a third party bills your cell phone bill (buying a game for your phone, 99 cent text message), that amount will be itemized on your bill (or at least it was when I was with AT&T / Cingular), there is usually some way to dispute the amount. I’m not suggesting asking for a refund based on stupidity, but one of the reasons might work for you.

  14. arcticJKL says:

    1. It doesn’t matter that they should be responable for their own actions or not, in California gambling in this manner is illegal.

    2. In some cases you can also enter online, for free, so no purchase is necessary. They pay for the convenience of using their cell phone.

  15. Skeptic says:

    Verizon is SOL on this one.

    There is no legal justification in california for Charging extra to send a text message to a contest with a prize, thus the extra fee is a charge for gambling. Normally text messages are included in a plan or cost up to $.15 each (pure profit, BTW). The contest “premium” text messages were $.99. Since gambling is generally illegal in california, Verizon’s gotsome essplaining to do…

  16. CMU_Bueller says:

    @eelmonger: No, when you get a Coke, you get a Coke and an entry. There’s no benefit (Coke) to sending a text message to enter a contest.

  17. moorie678 says:

    If you are watching deal or no deal (a show that is pretty much about opening briefcases for hours) then you deserve to get taken advantage of…..

  18. czetie says:

    @moorie678: beat me to it. As far as I can tell, Deal Or No Deal is a game show without the game.

  19. Angryrider says:

    @moorie678: They do! I wonder what’s so fascinating about choosing briefcases for cash.
    … Wait… HOT CHICKS!!

    When I saw this show, I actually had someone fully explain the game to me. I believed that the cases were randomized each round and that you could actually lose this game. I was sad that it was impossible.

  20. unclescrooge says:

    I have always thought that those text messaging contests were just schemes to grab cell numbers for telemarketing and that the companies sponsoring the scheme would simply point to the user’s use of the service to show an existing relationship existed before cold calling unsuspecting viewers.

  21. @Riddar: I know, you need a license and state oversight to run a tiny charitable raffle in most states where the prizes are often worth more than is raised, just because of the “gambling” aspect. Seems like yet another example of how big businesses don’t think they have to abide by the same rules as, say, neighborhood associations raising money to plant flowers.

  22. Crim Law Geek says:

    It varies by state, but usually the line between legal wagering (i.e. your office NCAA Pool) and illegal gambling is whether or not the “house” gets a cut. I could run the largest gambling house in the universe pretty much anywhere in the US, as long as I don’t take a cut. Verizon screwed up here by taking a cut and become a “house”.

  23. Skeptic says:

    Cute. I hadn’t even noticed the blurry Verizon logos on the slot machine reels.

  24. RulesLawyer says:

    Good subtle photoshopping job with this one. Nicely done.

  25. Curiosity says:

    Very nice logic for the class action.