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ASA bans misleading Unibet ads over “risk free bet” claims

7th January 2015 9:22 am GMT

The UK’s Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has banned three advertisements from online gaming operator Unibet which were found to be misleading for using the term “risk free bet” to describe their bonus offer to customers.

Three issues were investigated, all of which were upheld by the ASA’s Summary of Council decision. These included two sponsored posts on the Facebook news feed, a sponsored Google search result and a web page for a promotion on Unibet.co.uk.

The Facebook sponsored posts related to two football games - Man City v Liverpool and Man Utd v Sunderland – and stated: “Join Unibet for a £20 Risk Free Bet on today’s game! Open an account today and we will cover the risk of your first bet up to £20.”

The sponsored search result on Google stated: “Unibet £20 Risk Free Bet - Join Today and Bet on Football ... Great Odds & Live Betting.”

The landing page ad similarly stated: "Placed a bet at the stadium? Claim your £20 Risk Free Bet... with instructions on how to open an account and deposit funds, and a tab titled ‘Terms and Conditions’ that linked to ‘The Unibet Rules’.

The ASA received three complaints which challenged whether the claim “risk free bet” in all three of the ads was misleading, and whether the first two ads made significant conditions of the promotion sufficiently clear. One complainant challenged whether the third ad was misleading because it did not make clear that further bets at specified odds must be placed in order to withdraw the refunded stake.

In its defence, Unibet explained that "risk free bet" was a term commonly used in the gambling industry for bonuses of this nature and that it was offered as a welcome bonus for new customers. The operator stated that the nature of the offer was explained in clear and easily comprehensible language in its bonus terms and condition, which were easily accessible by customers.

It stated that the intended meaning of the phrase "we will cover the risk of your first bet up to £20" was that if the customer lost the first bet, the stake would be returned for further turnover and therefore this would be considered "risk free".

Unibet explained that if a customer won the first bet, the bonus would be completed and they would be able to withdraw the winnings immediately as cash. If a customer lost their first bet, the stake would then be returned as bonus money and this could only be withdrawn after the customer completed the bonus turnover requirements.

The operator said that due to limited space in social media posts, material information concerning the turnover requirements would not be visible or clear to customers and therefore it was common practice that such requirements were not directly included in these posts, unlike ads in other media such as emails and banners.

Unibet added that the terms and conditions which detailed the turnover requirements were always easily accessible to customers.

Unibet did not consider that the Facebook posts were misleading as it believed that the bonus terms and conditions set out the nature of the risk free bet and the turnover requirements in a transparent manner. However, the operator has now agreed to amend the ads accordingly to include the reference "T&C apply, +18, www.gambleaware.co.uk" in order to alert customers that the bet was subject to certain terms.

Unibet has also amended the sponsored post on Google by including the reference "Bonus T&C apply. Bonus must be wagered 6x before withdrawal. 18+. Gamebleaware.co.uk" and a link to the bonus terms and conditions.

In its assessment, the ASA considered that most customers, upon viewing the claim "risk free bet" in the ads, would understand that they would be able to place a first bet of £20 without the risk of loss or significant exclusions, particularly in the absence of a qualification in the ads to state that the "risk free bet" offer would be subject to terms and conditions.

The ASA further considered that when the claim was read in conjunction with the wording "we will cover the risk of your first bet up to £20" in the first two ads, most customers would expect that the stake from their first bet would be refunded and could then be withdrawn as cash.

It considered the requirements in the bonus terms that customers would need to fulfil to qualify for the withdrawal of the refunded stake in cash, in conjunction with the possibility of losing the entire bonus funds during the turnover process and therefore becoming ineligible to make such a withdrawal, were likely to contradict customers’ understanding of the "risk free" bet offer within the context of the ads.

The ASA therefore concluded that the claim "risk free bet" in the ads was misleading, thereby breaching CAP Code (Edition 12) rules 3.1 and 3.3 (Misleading Advertising), 3.9 and 3.10 (Qualification).

The ASA also considered that the requirement to place further bets at specified odds using the returned bonus funds in order to withdraw the stake from the lost first bet in cash, to be a significant condition that was likely to affect customers’ understanding of the nature of the offer.

“Such a significant condition should either have been made clear in the ads or the ads should have clearly indicated the offer was subject to significant condition and directed consumers to the significant condition if the ad was limited by space,” the ASA said. “We considered this was of particular importance given the possibility that consumers might not be able to recover the stake of the first bet, and was therefore likely to influence their decision on whether or not to take up the offer.”

Given the omission of a qualification in the ads to indicate that the offer was subject to terms and conditions, and the fact that the full terms were more than one click away from the ads, the ASA considered material information about the offer had not been presented clearly enough to customers in order to enable them to make an informed decision.

For these reasons, it concluded the ads were misleading under CAP Code (Edition 12) rules 3.1 and 3.3 (Misleading Advertising), 3.9 and 3.10 (Qualification), and 8.18 (Significant Conditions for Promotions).

Finally, the ASA noted that the Google sponsored search result did not specify that terms and conditions would be applicable to the offer and considered that most customers would understand from the search result that the offer would not be subject to significant limitations and exclusions.

Again, the ASA considered that the requirement to place further bets at specified odds to be a significant condition that was likely to affect customers’ understanding of the nature of the offer and therefore their decision whether or not to take advantage of it.

It noted Unibet’s comments that the general terms and conditions had been erroneously linked to the landing page, rather than the bonus terms, and considered that this significant condition should have been made clear in the Google sponsored search result or in the main body of the landing page titled "Placed a bet at the stadium? CLAIM YOUR £20 Risk Free Bet".

On this basis, the ASA concluded that the third ad was misleading as it breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rules 3.1 and 3.3 (Misleading Advertising), 3.9 and 3.10 (Qualification), and 8.18 (Significant Conditions for Promotions).

Unibet has been told that the ads must not appear again in their current forms, and to ensure that the operator did not use the claim “risk free bet" to describe this bonus offer in future ads.

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