Super Bowl ad is ruled out of bounds 900-number contest deceptive, state says

January 15, 1992|By Lynda Robinson

Maryland calls to a 900-number advertising a contest to win a trip to the Super Bowl were blocked yesterday after the state attorney general concluded that the advertisement was deceptive.

The ad, which appeared in the Washington Post's sports section Monday and yesterday, urged Redskins fans to call a 900-number for the chance to "win a $5,000 trip to the Metrodome for the big one."

The ad's fine print did mention one hitch: Phone entries from Maryland, Virginia and Washington were void.

So anyone who paid $3.30 a minute to call from those areas couldn't win the trip.

"If you read that ad, you'd better have your bifocals on because you have to read the fine print," Maryland Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr. said. "The ad is definitely deceptive."

At his request, American Telephone & Telegraph Co. agreed yesterday to block calls from Maryland to the 900-number.

People who have already called the number should contact the business office of Chesapeake & Potomac Telephone Co. of Maryland when the bill arrives next month, Mr. Curran said. C&P has agreed to remove those charges from the bill.

Mr. Curran said no one knows how many people called the 900-number to enter what amounted to a privately organized lottery, which are illegal in the three jurisdictions.

The 900-number was set up by a company called Sports Sweepstakes International Inc. of Coral Springs, Fla. But attempts to find a company by that name in Coral Springs were unsuccessful.

Bo Jones, a lawyer for the Washington Post, said that the ad will not run again although it did not appear to break any law.

The ad doesn't actually mention the Super Bowl by name. It promises a four-day, all-expense-paid trip for two to the Metrodome in Minneapolis and two tickets to "the big game."

The fine print does say people can enter the contest by mail. But the 900-number dominates the ad, which advises readers that "the more you call, the better your chance to win."

Michael Enright, an assistant attorney general, said the state began investigating the ad as soon as people spotted it in the newspaper.

"It's one of those 900 nightmares," he said. "Even if you were to win, you can't win."

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