Bet365: Online betting agency fined $2.75 million for misleading punters
Online betting agency Bet365 has been fined $2.75 million in the Federal Court for misleading and deceptive practices over a "free bets" promotion.
- Bet365 ran a "free bets" promotion from March, 2013 to January 2014
- Customers were required to bet $200 of their own money before accessing their free bet
- Federal Court found conduct involved recklessness and affected many consumers
The action brought by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) centred on a "$200 free bets for new customers" offer that the UK-based company ran between March, 2013 and January, 2014.
The ACCC argued there were numerous restrictions and limitations that applied to the offer that were not brought to customers' attention.
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, before they could receive their $200 free bet.
"In this sense, if the restrictions and limitations had been appropriately brought to consumers' attention, they would have been able to recognise that there was no 'free' bet, particularly given that they had to risk their own money before making such a bet," ACCC Chairman Rod Sims said.
"Customers had to gamble their deposit and bonus three times before being able to withdraw any winnings. As an example, a customer who made an initial deposit of $200 and received $200 was then required to gamble $1200 before being able to withdraw any money," Mr Sims said.
Bet365 is ultimately controlled by its UK parent Hillside Services through an Australian subsidiary Hillside (Australia New Media) Pty Ltd.
Conduct 'serious, extensive and affected large number of consumers'
In his judgement, Justice Jonathan Beach noted the companies were large and collectively marketed themselves in Australia as the world's biggest online betting company.
Hillside Services' listed revenue in the 2014 financial year was 932 million pounds ($1.82 billion), while its revenue stream in Australia accounted for $29 million of that.
"The court found that the conduct was serious, extensive in its duration and affected a large number of Australian consumers," Mr Sims said.
"Further it was found that the conduct involved a significant element of recklessness which occurred in an environment where there was no substantial and rigorous compliance program."
The court ordered Bet365 to send a corrective notice, by email, to affected customers.
"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'," Mr Sims said.
"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'.
"This is particularly relevant in an emerging industry like the online gambling market, where online and print advertisements target consumers who may not previously have used online gambling services."
The ACCC investigation was part of a broader global sweep of "free" offer representations coordinated through the International Consumer Protection and Enforcement Network.