When the recession hit, it's estimated that the number of Americans entering sweepstakes doubled.
Whether it's because they have less money or more time, about 55 million Americans now participate every year. And some of them have formed sweepstakes clubs where they meet to strategize and fraternize.
There are more than 100 sweepstakes clubs across the country now. And these "sweepers" even hold annual conventions. "Good Morning America" attended the monthly meeting of the Chesapeake Crabs Sweepstakes Club in Reisterstown, Md., to see what it's all about.
Cars. Computers. Cruises. And Cash.
Those are the four Cs that every diehard sweeper wants to win. But now you can add another "C."
Click HERE for to find a sweepstakes club in your area.
Sweepstakes clubs. They meet monthly to trade tips and brag about their latest wins, which have included chocolate bars, gift cards or certificates, movie passes, a free makeup session and a cake.
Brenda Merson co-founded the club, and said there was some competition among members.
"Well there's a little competition in the way that you always hope to be the one that's won the biggest thing. And sometimes we'll do a little something like that, a little prize for winning the biggest thing that month."This month, the big win is $500 cash.
Sweepstakes club members like winning so much that they hold drawings for sweepstaking supplies like envelopes and stamps.
"It's a high ... my daughter tells me I have an addiction and I say this is the best addiction I have ever had," said club member Michelle Boemmel.There are rituals, like wish boards for prizes they'd like to win and brag books of contests they have won. "I've won more things than I can remember," said another club member. And there are strategies, such as colorful envelopes that stand out in a drawing and wrinkled entry slips with more surface area to grab hold of. "Some people will make it like an accordion, some people just crumple. ? Hopefully, I'm going to rocket to winnings," Merson said.
Sweepstakers Win Prizes, Lifelong Friends
But mostly they win because they enter. There's an old joke about a dead man that makes the point perfectly.
"I prayed to you every night, 'Dear Lord, let me win a sweepstakes and you never let me win.' The Lord says, 'Well, you never entered,'" said another member, laughing.
So why would these diehard competitors risk lowering their odds by banding together?
"When you have a club, what you have is ... more knowledge. You have absolutely more knowledge of what sweepstakes are out there and that more than makes up for the small chance of having more entries in the sweep," said one member.
Ilma Rosskopf said she "joined the club and my luck has changed tremendously since then. Because I learned a lot of tips and things that you need to do and who was a good sponsor and who wasn't and where not to waste your time."
Indeed, bigger than sweepstakes clubs, there are sweepstakes conventions, most recently in Hershey, Pa. One highlight: a costume contest -- of course -- where people dressed up as something they had won.
"I was in a room with 600 other people just like me, and I said to my husband, 'We're coming every year,' and he said, 'Oh, no," recalled Carolyn Wilman, author of the books "You Can't Win If You Don't Enter."
Wilman says she has won a quarter of a million dollars worth of prizes over the years, but that sweepstakes clubs and conventions aren't about money.
"It is amazing, I've made lifelong friends ... there's so much positive energy. People are all happy when you win something," she said.
And extra happy when they win something big. Members of the Chesapeake Crabs Sweepstakes Club have won trips to Las Vegas and Hawaii, a motorcycle, a Corvette, a Chevy Cobalt, $10,000 in cash and a $15,000 shopping spree.
Big wins like that are a combination of luck, persistence and strategy.
If you know you're entering a blind drawing, they say it's a good idea to crinkle or fold your entry slip so that it has some surface area that fingers naturally grab hold of.
The strategy is different if it's in a non-blind drawing where judges will see the entries. Contest rules vary and sometimes the people picking can see all the entries. In that case, the pros try to use colorful or even textured envelopes that catch people's attention.
Web Extra Tips
Want to join a sweepstakes club? Here are some lists of where they are and when they meet:
Contest Queen. Click HERE to visit the website.
Sweepstakes Supplies. Click HERE for the website.
Check out our March 9, 2011, report for the greatest secrets of sweepstakers and learn how you can win big.