Freebets, Bonuses and the CMA


Online casino and sports book operators in the UK are having to re-think how they describe and publicise their bonuses and promotions after an intervention by the Competitions & Markets Authority (CMA).

In a speech to the UK Gambling Commission Raising Standards Conference the CMA director identified a number of issues that had been brought to the CMA’s attention with regard to how online gambling companies use promotional terms such as ‘free bets’ or ‘free spins’, as well as several areas of concern in relation to the conditions and restrictions imposed on signup bonuses and other offers.

The result of this is likely to be that online casinos and sports books will need to re-write many of the terms and conditions associated with their bonuses and promotions in order to make them clearer and easier to understand for punters, or face being taken to court by the CMA. It may also be the case that the way in which Welcome Bonuses and free bet offers are structured will have to change, particularly with regard to the ability of players to withdraw winnings.

Changes to how T&Cs are written

Of particular concern to the CMA was the behavior of operators in relation to the information they provide to customers, and they have argued that T&Cs should be written in such a way that they are not misleading and enable customers to make properly informed judgements as to whether they should accept an offer or not.

In addition, the CMA wants to ensure that bonus conditions and restrictions do not require players to gamble for pre-determined periods or at increased frequency in order to be able to claim all of the benefits contained in a signup deal.

Essentially, the T&Cs casinos and sports books provide to explain their offers are being called into question for not being clear enough, as is whether they explain their betting terminology adequately, and whether free bets and free spins offers are in fact what they claim to be.

As anyone who has been around the online gambling world for any length of time will know, there are very few genuine free bets, no deposit deals available, along the lines of they give you free money, you bet, you win, you get your winnings.

However, it is the T&Cs with regard to winnings from free spins and free bets that is one of the CMA’s biggest concerns, in particular operators who don’t “let customers withdraw money from their own deposits because the terms of a promotion didn’t differentiate between deposit and bonus money.”

Therefore, we can expect to see online sports books and casinos making this part of their signup bonus offers much more explicit and easier to understand when it comes to what constitutes ‘your’ money and what is bonus funds — Sportnation’s free bets offer  theoretically offering free £100 in cash is one example of how these types of promotions will in future need to be set out for new players.

Will this change how free bets are offered?

However, it’s not just the language that is used in T&Cs that has prompted the CMA’s intervention — it is also the actual conditions and restrictions that online gaming operators apply to their bonuses. These include restrictions on winnings from deposited funds being withdrawn until wagering requirements are met, non-cashable bonuses, restrictions on the games that can be played in order to meet the playthrough, and restrictions on bet sizes until wagering requirements are met.

For instance, according to the CMA, bonuses will now have to be structured in such a way that they don’t exploit the potential for problem gambling behavior, and so that they don’t encourage players to chase their losses or continue gambling after they intended to stop. In essence, this means that the conditions applied to promotions will no longer be able to restrict the withdrawal of deposit winnings (as opposed to bonus winnings), and that there will need to be a clearer distinction made between what bets you can make or games you can play when playing with either restricted or unrestricted funds.

Access to bonus T&Cs will also need to be made significantly easier, with online sports books and casinos now required to make these available in full from a single click, and to feature the significant conditions more prominently wherever a bonus is promoted on their website, as well as on affiliate marketing sites.

Some operators have responded quickly to the CMA’s intervention, ahead of the reassessment of the industry that is planned for December 2017. A number of online casinos have already begun to designate ‘free spins’ as ‘extra spins’, with one or two leading brands changing how their signup bonuses are structured so that there are no wagering requirements attached to winnings from extra spins, and we can expect to see further changes being implemented by the industry ahead of the review, particularly with regard to free bet offers.

In the light of this criticism of the online gambling industry by the CMA, it does however need to be stressed that the authority is not suggesting that its measures with regard to tackling fraudulent behaviour or cheating should be called into question, nor that sports book and casino operators are not complying with other relevant laws and regulations.



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