The Federal Court has ordered global betting giant Bet365 pay penalties of $2.75 million for promotions that offer a $200 'free bet' to new customers. The fine amounts to more than half of Bet365's ad spend in 2014, according to Nielsen figures, although this doesn't include subscription TV or digital spend.
The landmark ruling could have an impact on other betting agencies that offer misleading deals if restrictions are not made clear to customers. AdNews will release a special report on sports betting advertising next week.
“Advertising is the number one issue that needs to be addressed. Over the years we've seen more ads that are trying to embed gambling in peer group behaviours. Now it's about betting with your mates while you are watching the game," says Deakin University associate professor of public health Samantha Thomas, an expert on gambling advertising.
“More recently we've seen ads around risk reduction promotions that create a perception that there is less risk involved with gambling.”
In September 2015, the Federal Court found Bet365’s promotion of “$200 free bets to new customers” between March 2013 to January 2014 was misleading, deceptive and involved false representations. The proceedings were brought about by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC).
The point of contention is that in order to receive the represented $200 'free' bet offer, new customers were required to deposit and then gamble $200 of their own money first. To cash in, customers had to gamble their deposit and bonus three times before being able to withdraw any winnings.
For example, a customer who made an initial deposit of $200 and received $200 bonus was then required to gamble $1200 before being able to withdraw any money.
“The ‘free bets’ offer by Bet365 was aimed at enticing customers, particularly new customers who had not previously used such types of services and who were drawn into what the judge described as a ‘web of deception’,” says ACCC chair Rod Sims. "It is disappointing that such a large and prominent business would engage in misleading marketing behaviour.”
“These penalties should serve as a warning to all businesses that is it not acceptable to promote ‘free’ offers as a headline offer without ensuring that any restrictions or limitations are disclosed in a prominent way that ensures consumers are fully informed before they are ‘enticed into a marketing web’.”
Bet365 is not the only betting agency that offers misleading promotions to lure new customers. In running an investigation on the sports betting sector, AdNews discovered that such enticements are commonplace with certain agencies, particularly online.
Earlier this year, Crownbet, Unibet and Bet 365 were fined for illegal sports betting ads in NSW.
Unibet, for example, offers a bonus bet of four times the deposit amount but you can only claim winnings if you gamble four times the bonus money. So in the example below, you would need to wager a further $240 of your own money before you could cash out. Further, such promotions of credit (known as a 'bonus' by gambling companies because they legally cannot provide credit) are illegal in most states, including NSW, and Victoria.
The wagering restrictions are contained in the terms and conditions. AdNews journalist Arvind Hickman quizzed unibet about the practice to get an explanation and was advised to call the agency's customer services hotline.
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