Lotteries, Raffles, or Drawings for Participants

Introduction

Researchers sometimes ask if drawings or lotteries may be used to pay human subject participants as an incentive to enroll or continue to participate in a study. This may be particularly attractive when the funding available to pay participants is low. However, such a proposed compensation method raises issues from two perspectives as noted below and is not permissible in the human study context:

  1. The use of drawings or lotteries to incentivize enrollment or participation in a study may present ethical concerns. For example, the use of lotteries or drawings may be viewed as an unequal distribution of payment to participants since only one or a limited set of persons would receive compensation. Also, the use of lotteries or drawings may be viewed as coercive depending on the amount of the potential prize.
  2. Florida law provides that it is illegal for a person to “[s]et up, promote, or conduct any lottery for money or for anything of value, [or to] assist in the setting up, promoting or conducting a lottery” or to “[a]id or assist in the setting up, promoting, or conducting of any lottery or lottery drawing.“ See Florida Statute Section 849.09.

Florida Law

Florida law does allow certain charitable and nonprofit organizations to conduct drawings under certain specific circumstances (Florida Statute Section 849.0935), but the context of human subject research would not fall within such circumstances for several reasons. Florida Statute Section 849.0935(4)(b), (d) and (i) provide, in part, that it is unlawful “to require …substantial consideration …or contribution as a condition of entering the drawing or of being selected to win a prize” or “[t]o condition the acquisition or giveaway of any prize upon the receipt of voluntary donations or contributions” or “[t]o arbitrarily remove, disqualify, disallow, or reject any entry or to discriminate in any manner between entrants who gave contributions to the organization and those who did not give such contributions.” Given that participants in a study would be required to perform certain tasks or to provide of their time for the study, the “entry” into a drawing would require a “contribution as a condition of entering the drawing or of being selected to win a prize.” Moreover, if the winners may only be among persons who participated in the study, any non-participating persons would be disqualified from the prize since the pool of potential winners would only be those who are participating in the study. As such, a drawing would not be permitted in the context of human subject research by Florida law. Additionally, Florida Statute Section 849.0935 only permits certain stated charitable or non-profit organizations to do the drawings and depending on what FIU entity is involved, it may not qualify under the statute.

It should also be noted that Section 849.0935(4)(a) provides that: “[i]t is unlawful for any organization which, pursuant to the authority granted by this section, promotes, operates, or conducts a drawing by chance: (a) [t]o design, engage in, promote, or conduct any drawing in which the winner is predetermined by means of matching, instant win, or preselected sweepstakes or otherwise or in which the selection of the winners is in any way rigged.”

Therefore, Florida law would not allow drawings in which the winners are predetermined (e.g., every nth person enrolled or the first N (e.g., 30) number of persons enrolled or any other process by which the winner is predetermined.

Closing Information

The only circumstance in which drawings or lotteries may be used in human subject studies is when the drawings or lotteries themselves are the subject matter of the research study.

Thus, if participants are to be compensated for their participation in a study, it is best to compensate all participants equally. Such compensation must be proportional to the individual’s participation in the study so that it is not deemed to be coercive. The IRB would determine if the compensation proposed is appropriate.