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Gambling site's 'no strings attached' offer had strings attached

888.com's 'free bet' ad was misleading – ASA

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The UK's advertising watchdog has banned an online betting advert for free bets because the company behind it did not make clear that users needed to accumulate certain winnings before the money could be withdrawn.

The advert for online casino 888.com contained information that was not properly qualified and omitted details consumers needed to make an informed choice about the offer, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) ruled. It therefore deemed the ad to be misleading and banned 888.com from using it again in its "current form".

The online casino sent a direct mailing ad to a consumer which stated that the individual could take advantage of a 'no deposit bonus' by using a new account with the company with a "free" £10 already credited to it. The ad said he could "start playing" through his new account and that it needed "no registration" and "no deposit" from him to do so, and that there were "no strings attached".

However, the consumer who took up the offer was unable to withdraw the £10.70 he had accumulated in winnings from betting with the £10 that was in his account because "a minimum withdrawal amount applied." He complained to the ASA that the ad was misleading because it had not mentioned that the offer was subject to such a condition.

888.com claimed that it is its policy that consumers cannot withdraw less than £30 from their accounts with it and that they must have "wagered" that amount before those winnings could be withdrawn. The company said that the advert had explained that its free bet offer was subject to a licence agreement and bonus policy and that consumers "expressly consented" to the terms when opening an account with it. It argued that the agreement, which contained details on the withdrawal policy, asked users to read the policy prior to agreeing to it.

The company also explained how consumers could use their winnings to make further bets and that they could add other "future bonus amounts" to their account and withdraw the money if their winnings, although not purely the balance of the account, exceeded £30.

However, ASA ruled that the offer had breached rules on misleading advertising and qualifications under the UK Code of Non-broadcast Advertising, Sales Promotion and Direct Marketing (CAP Code). This was because the requirement to agree to 888.com's licence agreement and bonus policy and the included policy on withdrawals had not been stated as part of the ad.

"We noted that the ad stated '... No deposit - No strings attached ...' and considered it was likely that players whose winnings from the initial £10 amounted to less than £30 might want to withdraw them without accumulating more by placing additional bets," the watchdog said in its adjudication. "We considered the minimum £30 withdrawal policy was a significant condition likely to influence players' initial decision to take advantage of the offer in the first place and should have been stated in the ad. Because it was not, we concluded that the ad was misleading."

Under the CAP Code marketing communications that are materially misleading or likely to mislead are prohibited. The Code also bans marketing communications that mislead consumers "by omitting material information ... by hiding material information or presenting it in an unclear, unintelligible, ambiguous or untimely manner".

'Material information' is defined under the Code as "information that the consumer needs to make informed decisions in relation to a product." The context and the medium and how advertisers make material information available to consumers through "other means" in cases where the time or space puts constraints on the medium, help determine whether missing material information or the way it is presented is "likely to mislead the consumer".

Advertisers must also ensure that their marketing communications contain any "significant limitations and qualifications" to what is being promoted.

Copyright © 2012, Out-Law.com

Out-Law.com is part of international law firm Pinsent Masons.

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