The Federal Court of Australia has ruled that one of the world’s leading online gambling groups, UK-based Bet365, engaged in misleading and deceptive conduct when it issued its “free bets” offer to new customers between March 2013 and January 2014.

In its $2.75 million judgement against Bet365, Justice Beach found that the online operator’s offer for “$200 free bets for new customers” over the ten month period failed to include the conditions of the offer.

Part of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission’s (ACCC) sweep of “free” representations by online gaming operations, in 2014 it discovered that in order to receive the “free bets,” and satisfy the promotion’s requirements customers were required to first deposit and play with $200 of their own money; within 90 days had to gamble with the value of their deposit and bonus times three before they were able to withdraw their winnings; and had to place bets on high-risk transactions.

In its September 2015 judgement, the Federal Court concurred with the ACCC’s allegations that Bet365 failed to satisfactorily explain the terms of the offer and instead led customers to believe that there were no restrictions and that they could make a $200 bet without limitation. After Justice Beach’s judgement last year, ACCC Chairman Rod Sims said, “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,” according to podlegal.

Justice Beach said that at the time of the promotion, Bet365 had 73,000 active customers and that the false promotion affected a “significant proportion,” as reported by The Sydney Morning Herald. Sims said that of the other companies it found to be guilty of similar behavior, Bet365 was the worst. In addition to the penalties, Bet365 was ordered by the Court to send customers affected by the breach a corrective notice by email.

A spokesman for Bet365 said the issue was the result of a software error which the court acknowledged, and that it has improved staff training and put in place “stricter compliance processes and controls” to prevent something similar from happening again.

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