The Federal Court has found UK-based online gambling giant Bet365 engaged in misleading and deceptive conduct over free bets offered to new customers, following legal action by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC).
The Federal Court ruled against both the local company, Hillside (Australia New Media), and UK sister company Hillside (Shared Services). But the ACCC lost its claim against Bet365 Group Limited, the ultimate holding company of the other two businesses.
The company, which enlisted Hollywood star Samuel L. Jackson for its Australian marketing, offered “$200 free bets for new customers” during its 2013 launch. But the fine print meant that customers had to gamble their deposit and bonus three times before being able to withdraw any winnings.
It meant that after an initial $200 deposit in order to receive the “free” $200 a new customer had to gamble $1200 before being able to withdraw any money.
Justice Jonathan Beach said in his judgment that new customers were “drawn into this web of deception”.
ACCC chairman Rod Sims said the offer meant potentially vulnerable consumers, such as inexperienced 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.
However, the consumer watchdog failed in its claim that a “deposit bonus” offer with qualifications was misleading and Bet365 also escaped further sanction over the “free bet” offer once the terms and conditions were posted on the front page of its website in January 2014.
A further trial will be held to determine the penalty over the offences found by the Federal Court.
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