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Bookmaker Sportsbet has paid a record-breaking fine of $2.5 million and has committed to refunding customers another $1.2 million after it was found to have breached Australia’s spam laws.
An investigation from media watchdog the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) found that Sportsbet sent more than 150,000 marketing text messages and emails to over 37,000 customers who had previously tried to unsubscribe.
Sportsbet also sent over 3000 marketing text messages that did not have an unsubscribe function.
Under Australian law, every commercial message must contain an “unsubscribe” option that honours a consumer’s request within five working days.
The marketing texts and emails from Sportsbet, sent between January 2020 and March 2021, either offered incentives to consumers to place bets or contained alerts about upcoming races.
Chair of ACMA Nerida O’Loughlin said the watchdog was concerned about the behaviour given the content of the messages and strategies consumers were using to break gambling addiction.
“We received complaints from people stating they were experiencing gambling-related problems and were trying to manage the issue by unsubscribing from Sportsbet’s promotions,” Ms O’Loughlin said.
“Sportsbet’s failures in this matter had the real potential to contribute to financial and emotional harm to these people and their families.”
The $2.5 million fine is the largest penalty ever handed down for a breach of spam laws.
Sportsbet will now appoint an independent arbiter to oversee a compensation program to refund customers who lost money on bets made associated with the spam, which is expected to total around $1.2 million.
Affected customers eligible to receive compensation will be contacted directly.
Ms O’Loughlin said Sportsbet was made aware of its practices prior to the formal investigation, but failed to change or review its operations.
“The ACMA contacted Sportsbet on several occasions leading up to the investigation to let the gambling provider know it may have compliance problems and it failed to take adequate action,” she said.
“Sportsbet is a large and sophisticated company which should have robust systems in place to comply with spam laws and protect the interests of its customers.
“We will be actively monitoring Sportsbet’s compliance and the commitments it has made to the ACMA.”
“The non-compliance resulted from technical and systems failures that regrettably meant not all customer unsubscribe requests were actioned in a timely manner,” the spokesperson said.
“Sportsbet suspended all email marketing for several months and implemented extensive system upgrades to ensure that all unsubscribe requests are now correctly actioned.
“Sportsbet takes these matters extremely seriously and is committed to ensuring that past failings are not repeated.”