Addicted to novelty since 2001

Skill-Testing Questions

Becky, a displaced American in Saskatoon (poor thing), writes of her consternation over Canadian contests:

And the best thing of all, regarding Canadian contests — the skills question you’re forced to answer if you win. Hmmm, let me get this right — in order for my to claim my free donut at Tim Horton’s, I have to answer an addition, multiplication, and division question?

In Canada, if you win a contest, you haven’t actually ‘won’ yet. First, you have to complete a skill-testing question. Usually this is a straight-forward math question that anybody who remembers their orders of operation from grade 8 could answer. For example:

2 * (18-4) + 4 = ?

As this article explains, it’s a peculiarity of Canadian law:

Under the Criminal Code, it is illegal to hold a lottery without a licence. Giving away a prize based on chance alone — a random draw, for instance — is considered a form of lottery. The contest industry invented the skill-testing question to get around that restriction. If a contest includes an element of skill, it is no longer considered purely a game of chance.

“It’s a loophole, basically, and to the best of my knowledge Canada is the only country that has that requirement,” said Toronto lawyer Brenda Pritchard, who is co-authoring a book called Advertising and Marketing Law in Canada that devotes an entire chapter to contests.

Like most things, I think the laws are different in Quebec.

13 Responses to “Skill-Testing Questions”

  1. The Middleman


    I have always wondered if there isn’t some clause in provincial human rights codes or even in the Charter that show that skill testing questions are discriminatory.

    Why can’t the mentally handicapped or mathematically challenged (etc.) have equal access to the prizes on the back of KD or in my candy bar wrapper? For instance, let’s say someone is oblivious to the order of calculation in arithmetic (brackets, multi/divide, add/subtract) through no fault of their own.

    BOOM! The door to prize number one closes on their fingers.

    Now that you inform me that it is actually a law that forced these companies to introduce the skill testing question, I think I am going to write to my MP or something.

  2. Jeff

    “poor thing”

    Care to guess what I’m thinking Becky….?


  3. Todd

    Becky should be happy to see the competition spiced up a bit. Americans like competition, don’t they? Oh, wait. No they don’t.

  4. Sumudu

    umm, the law doesn’t force companies to have a skill testing question, it’s just that the company can avoid having to get a lottery license if they have a test of skill as part of the contest. So if anyone should be accused of discrimination, it’s the company holding the contest, but then again that is a little silly since it’s really up to them what the requirements for winning a prize should be.

  5. Sacha

    I am a 7th grade student, and we’re learning order of operations. If you don’t know what that is by the time you’re buying coffee at Tim Horton’s, well, maybe you should ask anyone in Junior High

  6. Alicia

    Thats fine about the loophole, but why does the skill testing question have to be so complicated. I would get nervous under pressure and just looking at a sequence like this:
    5*(8+6)-16 would freak me out under the gun… especially for a TIMED skill testing question. What’s wrong with 2+2? that takes enough skill.

  7. Simon

    There’s a similar rule in the UK – commercial lotteries are (in most cases) banned, so those running competitions have to either:
    a) make it a “free draw” by providing entry by post (or some other method no less convenient and involving sending a communication at “normal” rates), or
    b) make it a “prize competition” by adding some sort of test of skill at the first stage of the competition.

    However, it is now legal in Great Britain (but not Northern Ireland) to have a competition limited to people who buy a certain product without a free entry alternative, as long as the product is sold at its normal price (and not increased solely because of the competition).

    Some phone-in quiz shows IMHO go very close to the line, perhaps crossing into contralegal borders, despite the fact that the authorities were supposed to be clamping down on this sort of thing.

  8. kit

    What about people who have learning disabilities? Or dyslexia or other mental handicaps but are still highly functional individuals? Do they not deserve to win because of their lot in life?

  9. SZ

    Why does it always say you have to solve the question ‘unaided.’ How are they to know people use a calculator over the phone? This is going a bit backwards in my opinion. If people are cheating in these questions then it defeats the purpose of making sure there is a test of skills before you win the prize. Also, any normal person would crack under pressure knowing they just won a huge prize but will have it taken away if they can’t answer a skill testing question within the allotted time. And like people have previously mentioned, this is unfair for those with mental disabilities

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