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ASA Cracks Down on Misleading Free Bet Advertisments

7th October 2009 12:21 pm GMT

In a decision that could have wider implications for all gaming operators, the UK Advertising Standards Authority has upheld a complaint against two press ads and a poster by bookmaker William Hill, which failed to clarify that any winnings that resulted from free bets would be settled without the free stake being returned to the customer.

The two press ads stated: "£100 of free bets! New customers open an online or phone account using Promo Code XXXX to claim £100 in free bets. 1st bet up to £50 matched then 5 x £10 Free Bets*."

The asterisk linked to small print which stated: "Williamhill.com/promo or call our 24hr call centre for full details. Correct promo code must be used to qualify for the free bet. All prices subject to fluctuation. Over 18s only. William Hill rules apply."

The poster showed an image of a computer mouse, with text stating: "£100 of free bets online. Enter promotional code XXXX. Terms and conditions apply."

One complainant challenged whether the ads were misleading because they did not make clear that any winnings that resulted from the free bets would be settled without the amount of the free stake being returned.

In its defence, William Hill said that the customer was being offered a free bet and that it was clear from the ad that conditions were attached to that offer. The company said that the condition of not getting the stake back did not make the £100 bet any less free and that the customers would still receive their winnings.

William Hill said it did not think that the condition was 'unusual' or would be unexpected, and said that customers would not lose from their own funds if they took up the offer and, if successful, would win despite having not staked any money of their own.

In its assessment, the ASA noted that the terms of the offer were that customers could claim the promotional £100 of free bets in increments as a result of spending specified amounts on real bets.

The ASA considered however that because the increments of free bets were only awarded as a result of minimum spends by customers; they would expect those bets to be treated in the same way as any other bet and to get their stake back along with any winnings.

The ASA said that it noted the terms and conditions on William Hill's website which stated that stakes were not returned on free bets. However, since that information was not included in the ads, the ASA considered that it was a significant condition likely to affect customers' decisions to take advantage of the offer in the first instance.

The ASA concluded that the omission of this information from the three ads was likely to mislead, thereby breaching CAP Code clauses 7.1, 7.2 (Truthfulness) and 34.1 (Significant conditions for promotions).

William Hill has been told not to publish the ads again in their current form, and to ensure that significant conditions are detailed in future ads.

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