Essay House Contest Promoter Makes Comments

I just received the following comment:


Why is it that you don’t think the Hawaiian Home Essay Contest is “legit”? Skill contests like this are legal in all 50 states as long as no element of chance enters into the selection of the winners. Having a panel of unnamed judges (unnamed to all but the Attorney General’s office so as to avoid possible judge-tampering) evaluate the essays on a set of pre-selected judging criteria is not considered chance for this type of competition.

Is it that you don’t like the idea because it is not a ‘traditional’ method of selling a home? Does it all seem too easy? It really isn’t. Hiring a real estate agent and then sitting back and awaiting an offer to come in is easy, albeit not always successful.

Running an essay contest takes a lot of hard work and money over a long time period (minimum six to nine months). Most essay contest organizers don’t seem to realize this, which is why most contests fall way short of ever ending successfully, and the entry fees end up getting sent back to the rather disappointed contestants. Hardly a scam, just poor implementation of an innovative idea. I only know of one contest, held in California a few years ago, that appears to have possibly been some sort of scam (no criminal charges were filed), and in that instance, the state Attorney General, along with the Los Angeles County Superior Court, stepped in and all contest entrants received their entry fees back. In the scammer community, the word is out that there are much quicker and easier ways to scam money than with an essay contest, and with a much greater chance of getting away with it!

I’ve been working with essay contest organizers for over twelve years. My website offers tips and advice on running such contests, information that I’ve gained over the years, and that I provide free of charge. My website also draws a steady stream of folks that wish to enter skill contests and who do so on a regular basis because the odds of winning are always so much greater than that of winning a state lottery. On my website there is also a list of some big winners of homes, restaurants & pubs, businesses, cars, an airplane, cash money, a pre-paid funeral and even a cryonic body-freezing after death!

I’ve talked with Sheri Smith by phone, and she definitely knows how much work her contest is going to require, and seems quite willing to invest the time and money to do it correctly. I wish her well with her contest. As this impartial observer in Allentown, Pennsylvania, where the temperature is currently down near 0 degrees, a home in Hawaii sounds mighty inviting right now. Of course I am ineligible to enter for obvious reasons, darn it. But hopefully, some lucky person will be handed the keys to their new “Sweetheart Cottage” later this year by Oprah. I’m rooting for a cold Northerner to win – you folks in Hawaii are already in Paradise!

So tell me Damon, besides posting innuendo about the contest organizers, their personal lives and their entrepreneurial ambitions, what is it that really bothers you about this contest?

— Mark Samwick,webmaster


The following is my reply:

Interesting you found your way to my website Mr. Samwick. Can you show me a list of verified winners?

I mean you say yourself the following:

“Mark Samwick of Allentown, Pa., who runs, estimated that only about 5 percent of the win-a-home essay contests launched by private citizens end with the keys being passed. Most offers die out from lack of interest, he said.”

Or is it:

Ninety-eight percent of these things don’t work out, and that’s because of the way people go into them,” said Mark Samwick, creator of the Web site, who is writing a book on the subject.”

Did you forget your own rule?

Essay contests are illegal in a handful of states and restricted in others; however, in ALL states it is illegal to incorporate any element of chance in an essay contest.

And what ever happened with the results of this one?

“Claudia Johnsen is giving away more than $3 million in property for a song. Or a poem. Or an essay.

“I don’t care what it is as long as it isn’t anything vulgar,” said the 79-year-old Alexandria, Va. resident and sponsor of U.S. Dream Properties, the largest essay contest of its kind.”

Samwick you have been taking people for a ride for nearly half a decade now. Please show me a list of winners that I can verify and I’ll get off your ass.

Until then… Keep your scams out of Hawaii!

“…it reads like at any time they can just call the whole thing off and send everyone their money back minus $11 “administration fees”

Hell that’s $66000.00 right there…

Not bad money for a very little work..”

7 Responses

  1. This is a follow up on the excellent comment posted above by Larry, to further explore the definition of “skill” as it applies to this specific “contest”.

    Its interesting to see that so many people are “persuaded” that as long as these contest promoters use the word ‘skill” then everything must be “legal” and “above-board”. They probably would be shocked to find that there are some of us that are not so easily persuaded. Perhaps Sheri, her husband (the initial “judge”) and Mr. Samwick (not to mention Sheri’s attorney, Mr. Nakamoto) should get better acquainted with what “skill” really is and what “skills” can be measured.

    Let’s put aside the fact that the “builder or his proxy” (a single individual) will be the first “judge” that will measure the “skills” of each contestant (and that it’s unclear if the builder / proxy is qualified to do so) and instead focus on the 3 “impartial judges….all of whom are well-educated” (whatever that vague statement means). Certainly the following is well-known to these well-educated judges.

    The contest rules indicate that there are 3 “parameters” or “standards” that will be evaluated: 1) Creativity 2) Persuasiveness and 3) English grammar & punctuation. It seems obvious that a qualified judge could easily “measure” someone’s “skill” in grammar and punctuation, but how exactly does one go about measuring “skill” for such objective / subjective parameters as “Creativity” and “Persuasiveness”?


    For example, the “skill” of an athlete can easily be measured by the statistics of “hits” or “points” or “yards” (depending on the sport), but what specific criteria does one use to measure “creativity”? If creativity is defined as having both “originality” and “appropriateness”, then each “judge” will view the “creativeness” of each entry differently based on their own unique personal background, experience, and world view. What’s “original” to one person may not necessarily be to another. Same goes for what’s “appropriate”.

    Several attempts have been made to develop a “creativity quotient” of an individual similar to the Intelligence quotient (IQ), however none of these have been successful. Most measures of creativity are dependent on the personal judgment of the tester, so a standardized measure is difficult, if not impossible, to develop. Since Sheri and Mr. Samwick are so adamant that this is a CONTEST OF SKILL, perhaps they can enlighten us as to how they have succeeded in coming up with a way to evaluate a simple 100-word-or-less essay and uniformly and fairly measure someone’s skill for creativity, when others have failed with far more extensive criteria. (Kraft, U. (2005). “Unleashing Creativity”. Scientific American Mind April: 16–23).


    Persuasion, like creativity, is another objective parameter that has no standardized method of measurement. In addition, since the varied methods of persuasion typically appeal to the vastly different areas of “reason” (using logic, rhetoric, scientific method, or proof) and “emotion” (using faith, propaganda, seduction, tradition, or pity), each “judge” of persuasion will “score” a particular essay entry based on the judge’s own personal perspective — which by definition will be different than the other judges —– and the judge’s “subjectivity” (or lack thereof) to various methods of persuasion.

    However, in contrast to attempts to measure creativity, some methods of measuring persuasion have recently been proposed. These methods most often involve direct measurements at the brain using neuroscientific measurement protocols, using several approaches including Electroencephalography (EEG), Electrocorticography (ECoG), Magnetoencephalography (MEG), Positron emission tomography (PET), and Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). (Dr. A. K. Pradeep, NeuroFocus, Inc., Berkeley, CA “Persuasion: The Science and Methods of Neuromarketing” September 2007).

    Do Sheri and her husband plan to incorporate such methods for accurately measuring the effect of each essay’s persuasion on the brain of each judge? Sounds expensive, but clearly scientific, and a great way to measure “skill”. If not, by what specific criteria will “persuasiveness” be evaluated as a “skill”?


    The Rules also state that the parameters are “not limited to” the 3 standards listed…so one should assume that there “might” be other (“invisible”) standards that are used for which no contestant can ever possibly be aware of, thus making it impossible to know prior to entry if one possess the “skills” necessary to compete in such a “contest”. This seems quite vague and ambiguous…kind of like “please enter this skill contest, but we’re not going to tell you what skills may be required”. It would seem in this case, that one would have to be willing to GAMBLE that they had the skills that “might” be required. With such unknown and undisclosed “standards”, it makes it more like a “game of chance” than a skill contest.

    Mr. Samwick and Sheri constantly assert that the State of Hawaii is aware of the contest and that “contests of skill” are legal. However, have Sheri or Mr. Samwick confirmed with the State that contests involving tests / measurements / judgements of “creativity” and “persuasiveness” qualify as contests of skill? How about the “chance” someone has to take on the possibility of “undisclosed standards”? If so, it would be great to see it in writing.

    Contrary to the contest rules, creativity and persuasiveness cannot be viewed as “standards”, as there is nothing standard in any way to measure them as a skill.

    This is nothing more than a personality or popularity contest, and has little, if anything, to do with skill. For all I know, that in itself may be legal, but they should really call it what it is (gambling), and stop making false claims.

    It seems that Sheri is passionate in her belief that her contest is “legal”, but it would also seem that her belief is based on false assurances from Mr. Samwick. Mr. Samwick should be held liable for posing as an expert in these matters, and encouraging people to engage in such poorly-defined “contests of skill”.

  2. No worries, Devany; Mr. ScamWick has another “solution” in his bag-o-tricks that can help you with your unsold houses.

    Just go to and find out how ScamWick’s Catholic Voodoo will solve all your problems. Yes, Virginia, “Mark Samick” and “Sam Wick” are one in the same, and you already know about Santy Claus. Scum of the earth, indeed.

    My 8-year old almost blew cereal through his nose from laughing so hard when he read the Sam Wick Shtick.

    Gee, I wonder why he chooses to hide “behind a pseudonym”, yet “applauds” Damon for not doing so. Maybe he’s afraid people will find out the truth….I vote for “Marky Malarkey” or “Bunky Bunkum” as his next nom de guerres (but that’s a whole ‘nother element of ScamWick’s life that he likes to keep hidden).

    Should all else fail, you may want to consider an appeal to the Noodly Appendage of the Flying Spaghetti Monster (Pasta be His Name). Or not.

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