Sportsbet, the largest online betting company based in Australia, has found itself in a bit of hot water for actions during the COVID-19 lockdowns. The firm must pay a $3.7 million fine after it was found spamming gambling messaging to customers during the critical time period. Refunds must be provided to thousands of customers due to the actions from 2020 and 2021.
According to the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA), the company sent over 150,000 unlawful marketing messages via text and email to consumers. This is not necessarily bad behavior, but the over 37,000 consumers that received the messages had tried to unsubscribe from the service.
Additionally, the company sent over 3,000 marketing text messages that offered no way to unsubscribe. The company provided incentives for betting and alerts about races within the messages. The ACMA says this messaging had the potential to create emotional and financial harm to the customers affected.
Nerida O’Loughlin, the Chair of ACMA, commented on the fine, stating that the group had received complaints from consumers stating they were experiencing issues with gambling problems, and they tried to unsubscribe to the promotions from Sportsbet.
The Chair also said that the company was made aware of the issue but did nothing to fix it.
An Increase in Gambling
At the time of the messaging, Australians were betting more than ever. The COVID-19 lockdown caused people to be at home, rather than going out. Instead of spending money on travel or socializing, people were gambling more online. Gaming regulators in many countries have seen the lockdown as a time when gambling harm can occur due to lack of entertainment and the ease of access when it comes to betting.
For Sportsbet, the company will be forced to pay customers in Australia $1.2 million over the next three years. An independent arbiter has been assigned to the company to watch over the payment process to ensure the company is compliant.
Owned by Flutter Entertainment, Sportsbet offers services to around 1.2 million people in Australia. The company is no stranger to fines, having been issued charges before due to breaking advertising laws. Last November, New South Wales regulators fined the company $135,000 for placing gambling ads on social media that were prohibited. They also did not give players a chance to opt out of messages.
In March that same year, the company had to pay $22,000 for additional advertising issues. The advertising issue seems to be an ongoing problem with the company.