The Australian division of online betting operator Bet365 has been found guilty of misleading consumers via ‘free bet’ offers.
On Friday, Australia’s Federal Court upheld a complaint filed one year ago by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) which felt rollover requirements in a $200 ‘free bet’ offer weren’t explained to punters.
The ad in question offered a $200 ‘free bet’ for new customers but required punters to wager the value of their deposit and the bonus three times before being allowed to make a withdrawal.
The offer was listed on the welcome page of Bet365’s Aussie site for a 10-month span in 2013-14 with no reference to terms and conditions. After being contacted by the ACCC regarding this issue, Bet365 added a “T&C’s apply” caveat until the ad was removed from the site three weeks later. Bet365 blamed the omission on a software glitch.
In handing down the Court’s ruling, Justice Jonathan Beach said “new customers who had not previously used such types of services were drawn into this web of deception.” The Court will hold a separate hearing later this year to determine what penalties Bet365 will be assessed.
ACCC chairman Rod Sims expressed concern that such ‘free’ offers “run the risk of signing up new and inexperienced gamblers based on a deceptive claim.” Sims said the judgment “makes it clear that companies cannot use the word ‘free’ in offers to consumers where any conditions that seek to neutralize the ‘free’ nature of the offer are not clearly identified.”
While the Court ruled against Hillside (Australia New Media) and its UK sister company Hillside (Shared Services) in the free bet case, the claim was not upheld against Bet365 Group Limited, the holding company for the other two firms. The ACCC had accused the holding company of having “a corporate policy to mislead customers.”
Following the ruling, Bet365 issued a statement saying it took its regulatory and legislative compliance obligations seriously and had “introduced stricter compliance processes and controls, as well as improved staff training to prevent a similar issue arising again.”
Bet365 Australia could find itself in more hot water depending on the results of an Australian Federal Police investigation of the legality of the betting firm’s online in-play betting app. Bet365 launched its betCall app in July, following the lead of rivals William Hill and Ladbrokes, only to have local communications regulator inform them that the apps are illegal under the Interactive Gambling Act 2001.