Gaming giants Ladbrokes and William Hill have confirmed that they are two of five online operators targeted by the Competition and Markets Authority over suspected breaches of consumer protection law.
A joint probe by the UK Gambling Commission (UKGC) and the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) launched last October uncovered what the pair call “unfair practices” surrounding free bet offers and sign-up bonuses.
“Customers might have to play hundreds of times before they are allowed to withdraw any money, so they don’t have the choice to quit while they’re ahead and walk away with their winnings when they want to,” stated a CMA press release released in June.
Free bets and sign up bonuses are a very common way of attracting new customers to online casino, sports book and poker sites. For example, Ladbrokes is currently offering new customers £20 in free bets after they have placed a single £5 bet. William Hill has a similar £30 in free bets after £10.
Similarly, signup offers will frequently match deposits with a bonus instantly credited to players’ accounts. William Hill currently offers a 100% bonus on deposits up to £300 for new players. However, players must place a large number of wagers before the bonus amount is available to withdraw.
In the William Hill case, which is fairly typical for online casino offers, a total of £9000 must be wagered to release the full £300 bonus. Further fine-print generally excludes a large number of games that have a smaller house edge.
“We know online gambling is always going to be risky, but firms must also play fair,” stated Nisha Arora, CMA Senior Director for Consumer Enforcement. “People should get the deal they’re expecting if they sign up to a promotion, and be able to walk away with their money when they want to.”
“Sadly, we have heard this isn’t always the case. New customers are being enticed by tempting promotions only to find the dice are loaded against them. And players can find a whole host of hurdles in their way when they want to withdraw their money.”
The details of the enforcement action were not revealed; having identified “a number of operators engaging in practices likely to be breaking consumer law,” the CMA “has a range of powers at its disposal to bring any illegal activities to an end,” it was stated.
Ladbrokes and William Hill independently confirmed in statements to the media last month that they were “in dialog with” or had “received communications from” the CMA.
The other three operators thought to have been contacted are currently unknown; 888 issued a short statement saying that it was not under investigation.
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