Bet365 could face heavy fines in Australia after being accused of luring new customers in the country with an offer that required them to spend up to Aus$1,200 (€750/US$852) before being able to claim Aus$200 in free bets.
Launching a lawsuit in Federal Court, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) alleged Bet365 had engaged in misleading and deceptive conduct by offering free bets to new customers during a 10-month promotion that ran during 2013-14.
The ACCC complained that the bets were not actually "free", but required players to gamble at least Aus$1,2000 before being able to access the bets.
The Federal Court found in favour of the ACCC, ruling that Bet365's Australian and UK companies had both misled and deceived punters.
"New customers who had not previously used such types of services were drawn into this web of deception," Justice Jonathan Beach said, according to the Sydney Morning Herald newspaper.
However, the ACCC lost its claim against Bet365 Group Limited, the holding company of the Australian and UK businesses.
Documents displayed in court showed that between March 2013 and February 2014, the Bet365 main page displayed a headline offer of "$200 free bets for new customers", while from February this year showing: "Up to $200 deposit bonus for new customers".
ACCC chairman Rod Sims criticised the offer, stating it could prove attractive to more vulnerable consumers such as inexperienced gamblers and young people.
Sims added: "This judgement 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."
Penalties are to be determined at a further trial.
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