A TV ad and claims on the website www.bet365.com, which promoted a "Free Bet Offer":
a. The TV ad included a voice-over that stated, "… back any single winner at four to one or more on any race shown live on Channel Four and we'll give you a free bet to the same stake on the next live Channel Four race." On-screen text stated "FREE BETS" and the voice-over continued, "If your free bet also wins at odds of four to one or more, you qualify for a free bet on the next live Channel Four race. Keep backing those winners and we'll keep giving you free bets." Small on-screen text included "Max free bet £50 per race. Free bet winnings exclude stake".
b. The website included the claims "Channel 4/1 Free Bet Offer Back any single winner at 4/1 or more on any race televised live on Channel 4 and you can have a free bet to the same stake on the next live Channel 4 race. If your free bet also wins at odds of 4/1 or more, you qualify for a free bet on the next live Channel 4 race. Keep backing those winners and we'll keep giving you free bets!".
The complainants challenged whether the "free bet" claims were misleading, because participants had to stake their own money to make the 'free' bet.
Bet365 said the website used "free bet", which was standard in the industry and was a term customers were comfortable with. They said the significant conditions were one click away and could be accessed via a drop-down box. Condition four stated "Maximum free bets per customer £50 per race. Free bet winnings exclude stake. Bets must be paid for and placed in the usual way. If your free bet loses, your stake will be refunded to your account within one hour of the race finishing. Ante Post bets do not qualify towards this offer". They said emphasis was added to key sections. They informed customers of the requirement to stake their own money and that the stake would not be refunded if the free bet won. They said that information was clearly and prominently stated one click away from the ad and it was therefore not misleading.
They said that qualifying losing stakes were returned as cash that could be withdrawn without any play through or other similar conditions attached to it. Customers therefore did not lose any of their money if the free bet lost. They believed the full extent of the commitment the consumer was required to make to take advantage of the offer was made clear, including that they needed to stake their own money and that free bet winnings excluded stakes. They said the offer had been very well received and it was never their intention to disappoint customers.
In relation to the TV ad, Clearcast said it included the conditions that customers had to back a winner at 4/1 or more to receive a free bet, that the free bet would be the same as the stake, that customers qualified for a further free bet if their free bet won, that the maximum free bet was £50 per race and that the free bet winnings excluded the stake. They said they ensured such betting ads stated that the original value of the stake would not be refunded with any winnings and therefore the ad was consistent with others in the sector. Clearcast believed the ad included all the information necessary to allow viewers to reach an informed decision.
The ASA considered that customers would understand the claim "Back any single winner at 4/1 or more on any race televised live on Channel 4 and you can have a free bet to the same stake on the next live Channel 4 race" to mean that they would be offered a free bet following their win, whereby customers would receive a free element from the advertisers to bet again.
We noted that the terms stated "Free bet winnings exclude stake". We understood, however, that customers would have to place their own stake again in order to make the next bet, and would not be offered, for example, an additional free stake or matched stake by the advertisers. On that basis, we did not consider that the promotion offered winning customers any 'free' element when making their subsequent bet.
Although we acknowledged that, in the case of a subsequent losing bet, the original stake was refunded to customers, because we did not consider that there was a free element provided to customers who had a winning bet or a series of winning bets, we concluded that the claim that the promotion offered a "free bet" was misleading.
Ad (a) breached BCAP Code rules
Advertisements must not materially mislead or be likely to do so.
(Misleading advertising) and
Advertisements must make clear the extent of the commitment consumers must make to take advantage of a "free" offer.
Advertisements must not describe items as "free" if: (Free).
Ad (b) breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rules 3.1 3.1 Advertisements must not materially mislead or be likely to do so. (Misleading advertising), 3.23 3.23 Marketing communications must make clear the extent of the commitment the consumer must make to take advantage of a "free" offer. (Free) and 8.2 8.2 Promoters must conduct their promotions equitably, promptly and efficiently and be seen to deal fairly and honourably with participants and potential participants. Promoters must avoid causing unnecessary disappointment. (Sales promotions).
The claim must not appear again in its current form. We told the advertisers not to claim they were offering a free bet if there was no free element offered to customers.