When Willy Wonka was ready to retire, he searched the world to find the perfect child to take over his candy business, no fees or strings attached. For her ice cream store, Brenda Bou-Sliman also wants a successor - and almost $1 million in profit to boot.
Mrs. Bou-Sliman, owner of Brown's Dairy Plaza in Port Clinton, launched an essay-writing contest this month to give away the ice cream store and her nearby house. Contestants pay $250 to compete and write a 50 to 500-word essay explaining why they want the ice cream parlor. If 3,000 essays are not collected by June 10, 2008, Mrs. Bou-Sliman will cancel the contest and return the money. When and if she receives 3,750 essays, a panel of judges will choose the winner.
Mrs. Bou-Sliman said the contest is a good deal because it offers a business and a home for $250 - without mortgages.
"I really think it's that opportunity that people are going after," she said. "If it were [just] an ice cream parlor for sale, it would be one person having to come up with all the money to buy the place."
The real opportunity offered by the contest, though, lies in the revenue from the essay money.
The $937,500 Mrs. Bou-Sliman hopes to raise will pay off the mortgage on the two properties, fund the building of her new nonprofit dinner theater, and provide donations to two Catholic schools in Fremont.
But if the contest raises as much as she expects, she will make profit beyond these goals.
JEREMY WADSWORTH Enlarge
Ottawa County auditor's records show Mrs. Bou-Sliman bought the business at 425 Fremont Rd. for $195,000 in January, 2005. The same records show the value had depreciated to $45,080 by last year.
She said the dinner theater would cost about $350,000.
Mrs. Bou-Sliman said she consulted with an attorney, the Internal Revenue Service, and the Ohio Attorney General's Office for legal advice.
Monica Moloney, the attorney general's acting chief of charitable law, said though the definitions of sweepstakes are tricky, most forms of gambling other than the Ohio Lottery and certain charitable games are illegal in the state.
The two basic forms of gaming are raffles and "scheme of chance." Ms. Moloney said the essay contest seems to fall in the second category, in which a party gives a price consideration for a chance to win a prize. Ohio does not allow "scheme of chance" gaming.
"They're not legal in Ohio, whether or not they're being held for profit," she said.
Though most sweepstakes omit the price - offering applicants a chance to win the prize without paying an entrance fee - she said Mrs. Bou-Sliman's offer does not eliminate the price consideration. The essay contest fulfills the three characteristics of a "scheme of chance" game, offering a prize, a chance or opportunity, and requiring a $250 price to win, she said.
Mrs. Bou-Sliman said her contest does not fulfill those characteristics.
She said the attorney general's office told her the essay contest is not a "scheme of chance" because no chance is involved. The winner is not chosen randomly, but graded by two independent judges instead.
"This is not a game of chance. This is a game of skill," she said.
An Orwell, Ohio, couple held an essay contest for their farm in May, and on the Web site www.essaycontests.com, people hold essay contests for property.
Mrs. Bou-Sliman said she has received about 10 applications so far but she expects them to be slow because people need to write and revise their essays.
Contact Maggie Reid at: