The allure of a “risk-free bet” feels obvious. What better way to join a sports betting platform than with a wager that doesn’t carry any risk?
In recent years, new bettors were inundated with marketing materials from mobile sportsbook operators about “risk-free” sign-up bonuses. Customers loved the offers, and operators used the phrasing to attract new customers in competitive state markets, but after regulatory pushback operators are moving away from the risk-free term.
Those risk-free bets weren’t absent risk. In most cases, they involved digital sportsbooks offering a customer replacement betting funds for an initial wagering loss, and if a bettor lost a second wager using the replacement funds, they were out their initial stake.
Some regulators have thus objected to the risk-free phrasing, especially in newly legalized states like Ohio and Massachusetts where there’s been special focus on responsible gambling policies. Those states’ regulators helped spur an industry-wide shift in which multiple major operators, whether voluntarily or as a state requirement, have dropped “risk free” from their marketing. It’s a shift that responsible gaming experts hoped would have taken place via self-correction years ago.
“It never should have happened,” Alan Feldman, a distinguished fellow in responsible gaming for UNLV’s International Gaming Institute, said of the questionable terminology. “Gambling, by its definition, is putting something of value at risk. Although I appreciate philosophically what the companies are going after, in gambling terms it needs to be more clear.”
U.K. operators used phrase in early 2000s
Legal sports betting has become widespread in the U.S. over the last few years, after the repeal of PASPA in 2018, and risk-free bets became a frequently used phrase by U.S. sportsbook operators.
The term didn’t originate in the last five years, though, as it was prevalent in Europe earlier this century. Online sports betting took off in the U.K. in the early 2000s, and risk-free wagers were used by operators hoping to acquire customers in the new market.
“They’ve long been the main marketing tool used for acquiring new customers for well over a decade,” Alun Bowden, a senior consultant at Eilers and Krejcik Gaming, told Sports Handle via email. “They’re part of the furniture. The terminology tends to vary, from risk-free bets to free bets to money back, or more recently cash back as a way of differentiating from betting credits, but it all means the same thing.”
Bill Esdaile is the managing director of Square in the Air, a marketing consultancy for sports and betting companies, and he worked at Sporting Index for about a decade in the early 2000s. Sporting Index set up Sporting Odds (now Sportingbet), which was one of the first online sportsbooks in the U.K.
Esdaile remembers operators racking their brains in the early 2000s as they searched for ways to acquire customers.</…….