Bet365 has been dealt a heavy blow in an Australian court after a court ruled against the betting firm for offering “misleading” free bets to its new customers.
The court ruled against the British bookie after a legal case was brought by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) last year.
Although the British bookie’s holding firm, Bet365 Group Limited, will avoid a potential fine from the Federal Court, the ACCC did win its claims against local subsidiary Hillside Australia (trading as Bet365 in Australia), and the firm’s UK subsidiary, Hillside UK.
A new court case must now be set to decide on the subsidiaries’ punishments.
ACCC Wins Case
The ACCC had alleged that between March 2013 and January 2014, Australian Bet365 customers were lured into a welcome bonus for new players offering $200 free bets. In addition, a banner on the Bet365 website boasted an offer of “up to $200 deposit bonus for new customers.”
It was the key difference between the two offers, free cash versus a deposit bonus which needed to be ‘played through’ before $200 of free bet tokens were awarded, that was the main crux of the ACCC’s argument. In fact, to win $200 of free bets, customers were required to wager six times that amount.
In Australia in 2013, heavyweight US actor Samuel L. Jackson appeared in TV ads promoting the welcome bonus offer.
But ultimately, there would be no Hollywood ending for a betting giant who has fallen foul of the law.
Deposit Bonuses “Not Misleading”
At the pre-trial hearing, which took place at the Federal Court in Darwin in March, the ACCC said it was looking for “declarations, injunctions, pecuniary penalties, corrective advertising, a compliance program, and costs from Bet365”.
However, the Commission did note that the gambling site had changed the way it displayed information on its site since contact was made and the ACCC failed to prove that a deposit bonus promotion was in itself misleading.
Despite the changes, Justice Jonathan Beach was adamant that customers had been “drawn into this web of deception.”
“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,” said the ACCC’s Rod Sims.
“Inducements like free bets run the risk of signing up new and inexperienced gamblers based on a deceptive claim.”
Holding its hands up to the charges, Bet365 said in a statement that an “unintentional software error” was to blame for the misleading offer.
“As a licensed and regulated e-business which strongly supports the promotion of responsible gambling, bet365 takes very seriously its obligations to comply with regulatory and legislative requirements,” the statement said.
“We are continually working proactively to ensure that our customers are well informed about the products and services that we provide.”
Australia’s Online Betting Giant
Bet365 is currently one of the biggest online bookmakers on the web, and it entered the Australian market in 2013. Based in the English city of Stoke-on-Trent, the firm has avoided the pitfalls of its traditional bricks ‘n mortar betting shops by concentrating solely on the online market.
Down Under, subsidiary Hillside Australia was incorporated into the Bet365 group and obtained a licence from the Racing Commission of the Northern Territory to allow online sports betting in Australia.
Bet365 recently launched its version of the controversial ‘click to call’ betting service for its Australian customers. Betcall allows Aussies to make ‘in-play’ bets via their computer without using a phone, a move that has been called illegal in some quarters. The introduction of click-to-call betting has in part led to a massive review of online gambling in Australia which is due to be completed by the end of the year.