By Scott Malone
(Reuters) - A Maine innkeeper broke no laws when she offered to give away her historic hotel to the winner of an essay contest that charged a $125 entry fee, state police said on Tuesday following an investigation into the contest.
The owner of the Center Lovell Inn and Restaurant, located east of the White Mountains near the New Hampshire border, attracted national attention in March when she said she was retiring and planned to give away the property to the winner of an essay contest.
The catch was that owner Janice Sage planned to charge $125 per entry to the contest and aimed for some 7,500 applicants - enough to raise more than $900,000, covering the cost of the property and providing $20,000 in seed money for the new owner.
After naming the winners in June, Prince and Rose Adams of the U.S. Virgin Islands, Sage came under public criticism that the contest had been unfair and that the winning couple were chosen because they had prior inn-keeping experience, according to local media reports.
"The investigation concluded that this was a game of skill, not a game of chance. State Police license games of chance but there are no laws in Maine overseeing essay contests," state police said in a statement on Tuesday, following 15 complaints about the contest.
It was not the first time the state police were called regarding an essay contest involving the three-story inn, which dates back to 1805. Sage gained ownership of the property after a similar contest in 1993. Both contests were reviewed by Gaming Inspector Barry Hathaway.
A call to the inn went unreturned on Tuesday. The inn's website said it was closed and would reopen on July 10.
The original contest terms said the inn would go to the winner of the best 200-word essay explaining why the entrants wanted to run a rural inn and that the winners would need to agree to operate the business for at least one year and keep the building's traditional white paint with green or black roofing and shutters.
(Reporting by Scott Malone in Boston; Editing by Matthew Lewis)