His Honour Justice Beach stated “the ACCC has made out its case against Hillside Australia and Hillside UK in relation to the promotion and advertising during the period 18 March 2013 to 13 January 2014 of the “$200 FREE BETS FOR NEW CUSTOMERS” offer. Their relevant conduct was misleading or deceptive or likely to mislead or deceive and also involved the making of false representations. For the reasons already given, new customers who had not previously used such types of services were drawn into this web of deception. But other customers who had used such types of services before may have been similarly enticed.”
The Federal Court found against both the Australian Bet365 company, Hillside (Australia New Media) and its UK sister company Hillside (Shared Services).
“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,” ACCC Chairman Rod Sims said. “The free bet offer was directed at new customers, which included inexperienced gamblers and young people. The ACCC will take action where it thinks consumers are being misled, especially in emerging markets where there are potentially vulnerable consumers.”
Some of the conditions the ACCC was concerned about included a condition where customers had to gamble their deposit and bonus three times before being able to withdraw any winnings. As a result, a customer who makes an initial deposit of $200 and receives $200 must then gamble $1200 before being able to withdraw any money.
“Compliance with the Australian Consumer Law is essential for all companies that sell to Australian consumers, regardless of geographic location. Bet365 in the UK provided essential support to the Australian company including finance, customer service, and the Bet365 website,” Mr Sims said.
The ACCC did not succeed in its allegations that representations made by the companies offering Deposit Bonus with qualifications were misleading or in relation to Free Bet representations made for a short period of time in January 2014 where the terms and conditions applying to the offer were displayed in full on the opening page. The ACCC also did not succeed in its allegations of involvement of Bet365 Group Limited, the ultimate holding company of Hillside (Australia New Media) and Hillside (Shared Services) Limited.
The free bet claims came to the attention of the ACCC as part of a coordinated sweep of ‘free’ representations on websites targeting Australian consumers. This initiative was part of a larger global effort through the International Consumer Protection and Enforcement Network.