Is the Melbourne Cup office sweep legal?

by The FindLaw Team

It’s the race that stops a nation! And if your office is anything like ours, the excitement will be palpable and every single person in your workplace has probably become a horse racing expert this week. One of the features of the Melbourne Cup in almost every workplace across the country is the office sweeps, and depending on the size of your workplace, the winnings can be quite substantial. Of course we here at FindLaw are law nerds, so we began to wonder about the legality of the office sweeps and if there were any rules and regulations associated with conducting a sweepstake and lo and behold, there are!

What type of sweeps are allowed?

There are two types of sweeps which are allowed: the more familiar sweep, where a person purchases a ticket for the Melbourne Cup (or any other approved event) and the prize pool consists of the total amount of tickets sold, which is then awarded to the holders of the successful tickets.

The other approved type of sweep is a ‘Calcutta Sweepstake’, which is a sweep where an auction takes place in which participants bid on the horse they wish to back – just like an auction. However, in Victoria for example, a Calcutta can only be conducted under permit that is issued by the Minister for Racing, while in New South Wales, sweeps and Calcutta may be conducted without a permit if the total ticket sales are $20,000 or less.

Always set out the rules of the sweep

It’s always a good idea to set out which placing wins a prize and generally speaking, it’s for horses who come first, second and third. Many sweeps also include a prize for last placed horse and for any person who is running the office sweep, it should mean the horse last past the post, rather than one that did not finish the race.

Additionally, it’s not unusual to have a horse scratched for the race, therefore, the person running the sweeps should settle on either a policy of refunding the money to the person who drew the ticket for the scratched horse, or have a blanket policy of no refunds. The key is to clearly set out the rules before conducting the sweeps.

How are prizes to be distributed?

All money collected in a sweeps must be awarded to the participants and no cash should be taken out of the prize pool for expenses, costs, commissions, percentage of the fees, or payment of wages or remuneration, unless the sweep is conducted under the authority of a permit.

What prizes can be given away? Alternatively, are there any prizes which are prohibited?

Prizes can consist of money, goods, gift vouchers for example. However, there are certain prizes that are prohibited and includes tobacco products, firearms, ammunition, weapons, cosmetic surgery and in New South Wales, liquor prizes amounting to more than 20 litres, are not allowed to be given away as prizes.

Finally, total ticket sales must not exceed $20,000 in New South Wales, while for Victoria, the total value of prizes must not exceed $5,000.

Who would have thought that the humble office sweep would have so many rules attached? Anyway, if you are a participant in an office sweep, good luck and may your horse come in first!


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