September 11, 2015

Bet365 faces penalties for misleading novice punters over 'free' bets

Online gambling giant Bet365 faces heavy fines for luring new punters with a false promotion that required them to spend up to $1200 before they could recover $200 in "free bets".

Australia's consumer watchdog launched a lawsuit in the Federal Court alleging Bet365, one of the world's largest online betting providers, had engaged in misleading and deceptive conduct by offering the free bets to new customers in its 10-month promotion in 2013-14.

New gamblers were falsely enticed by the advertised "free bets", but were actually required to gamble $1200 before being able to withdraw any winnings, according to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission.

The Federal Court this week found in favour of the ACCC, ruling that Bet365's Australian and UK companies had misled and deceived customers.

"New customers who had not previously used such types of services were drawn into this web of deception," Justice Jonathan Beach said.
But the ACCC lost its claim against Bet365 Group Limited, the ultimate holding company of the other two businesses.

Court documents show that between March 2013 and February 2014, Bet365's opening webpage displayed the headline offer: "$200 free bets for new customers", and from February this year: "Up to $200 deposit bonus for new customers".

ACCC chairman Rod Sims said the offer meant potentially vulnerable consumers, such as novice gamblers and young people, were being lured to place bets.

"This judgment makes it clear that companies cannot use the word 'free' in offers to consumers where any conditions that seek to neutralise the 'free' nature of the offer are not clearly identified. Inducements like free bets run the risk of signing up new and inexperienced gamblers based on a deceptive claim," Sims said.

Penalties will be determined at a further trial in the Federal Court.

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