ORONO, Maine — The nearly sold-out performance of “The Price is Right — Live!” Wednesday night at the Collins Center for the Arts was abruptly canceled less than two hours before showtime due to lack of legal language on the center’s promotions for the show.
“It came down to the fact that we didn’t adequately explain to the public the ‘no purchase necessary’ aspect to the event,” said John Patches, executive director of the Collins Center. “We tried very hard to rectify it at the last minute, but in the end, we could not permit the show to go on, legally.”
Regulations vary by state, but generally, in order to give away a prize in a contest, contestants must be informed before their participation that no purchase is necessary in order to compete. If purchase were necessary, the contest would be considered a lottery.
“The Price Is Right — Live!” much like its televised counterpart, is a contest that draws a winner based on merit (by winning one of the many “Price is Right” games) rather than chance (a sweepstakes) or purchase (a lottery).
In the advertising for the show, the Collins Center did not post on its website or on fliers that no purchase was necessary in order to compete. Any member of the general public was eligible to register to be a contestant for Wednesday night’s show, regardless of whether they bought a ticket. The ticket merely purchased a seat in the auditorium, though ticket holders also were automatically registered to be contestants upon purchase.
“This was discovered by the company manager [of the tour] late in the afternoon, after they looked at the website and at fliers in the student union,” said Patches. “We needed, legally, to have that disclaimer out there.”
Lt. Scott Ireland, commander of the Maine State Police Special Investigations Unit, confirmed Thursday afternoon that someone from the Collins Center had reached out to police several weeks ago regarding the event.
“Where they did not have to pay to be an actual contestant, we told them that they were absolutely good to go,” Ireland said. “We didn’t tell them to cancel [and] we did not have any further involvement.”
James Gass, an inspector with the Maine State Police Special Investigations Unit, confirmed Thursday afternoon that Collins Center employees had checked on what is required by Maine state law.
“I don’t think it’s written anywhere in a state statute,” Gass said. “There really is nothing in there as far as sweepstakes go. We felt comfortable in the manner it was being done, but I guess the [production] company wanted it advertised specifically that way.”
Some states do require that the “no purchase necessary” disclaimer be clearly displayed, which Gass said isn’t a stipulation in Maine, but is fair advertising.
The $48 tickets will be refunded; credit card purchasers can call the Collins Center box office at 581-1755 between 9 a.m. at 4:30 p.m., while those who purchased by cash or check can expect a check in the mail in the coming weeks.
The Collins Center did not have insurance on this particular performance and lost $36,000, according to UM Senior Director of Public Relations and Operations Margaret Nagle.
“This was one of the most popular shows of our season, and we’d love to reschedule, if possible,” said Patches. “We learned a hard lesson. We’ve never done a game show before, and this show was originally designed to be in a casino setting. This tour was supposed to break that mold. This shouldn’t have happened, and I’m accepting the blame that we did not put that disclaimer in place properly. We’re very sorry that this happened.”
Patches said that in his 41 years working in performing arts centers in Maine and New York, he has never had something like this occur.
“I’ve had cancellations before, but never anything like this before, at the last minute,” he said. “It’s very rare, and I certainly hope it never happens again.”
Among the approximately 1,100 people who bought tickets in hopes of taking in the live version of one of the nation’s most popular game shows was Althea Huntley of Bangor, who went with two of her friends.
“I’m so disappointed,” she said, adding that she has been watching “The Price is Right” — now in its 40th year — since it first aired.
Huntley said the three learned the show was canceled about 6:45 p.m. from a woman they believe is an employee of the center. She said that some of the people who were leaving obviously had been seated already.
“Some of them were wearing their name tags,” she said.
BDN writer Dawn Gagnon contributed to this report.