We’ve all heard that one before, but still, such revelations can be disappointing.
That’s how Ed Conti of Nutley felt when he learned more about a recent promotion by Revel Casino-Hotel in Atlantic City.
Conti, 52, is a frequent gambler. He said he visits casinos in Atlantic City or Las Vegas at least once a month, and usually, more often. He never gambles away the mortgage, he said, but he calls gambling his entertainment of choice.
Perhaps it’s in his genes. His mom, 73-year-old Tina Conti, is a connoisseur of the one-armed bandit and takes day bus trips to AC to indulge in her hobby. While Ed Conti prefers table games, he’ll play slots when he visits casinos with his mother.
So both generations of Contis were intrigued when they heard the new “You can’t lose!” ad campaign by Revel.
The television ad says: “When Revel opened, we made mistakes. Now, we’re asking for a second chance. So we are going to make you an offer you can’t refuse. You can’t lose! All July long, we’re going to refund all slot losses. That’s right — if you win, you win. If you lose, we’ll give it all back. And we’re also going to match all slot offers from our competitors. You really can’t lose. We want a second chance, and to earn it, we’re giving you a second chance.”
Conti said he and his wife Ann Marie decided to visit Revel on July 5 to check out the promises made in the ad campaign for his mom. They lost $400 that day, but that’s not what bothered Conti about the casino.
He didn’t like the fine print on the “You can’t lose” promotion.
“I have a very different definition of a ‘refund’ than the Revel and I believe a majority of other folks would agree that a refund implies that you will receive a full reimbursement of funds,” he said. “I’m sure seniors and others have fallen prey to this ‘catch’ and I don’t feel it is right.”
The “catch” Conti is talking about is the fine print.
The program works like this: Revel will provide customers with “free play” slot dollars for losses of at least $100 during July. These “free play” dollars can be used to win or lose, but they can’t be cashed out.
What’s more, customers don’t receive their entire “refund” in one shot. The casino will give customers the credits in 5 percent increments over 20 weeks starting Aug. 5, but if you don’t visit the casino for each of those 20 weeks, you don’t get your full “refund.”
“Now to be fair, it is up to the gambler to know what the deal is before choosing to participate,” Conti said. “The Revel casino does have these details on their web site in the smallest fine print I have ever seen.”
“However, the marketing campaign definitely gives the public the sense that the program does not have these qualifiers,” he said.
Tina Conti had been planning to visit Revel, Ed Conti said, but she changed her mind when he explained to her the fine print.
“When I told my mom about this she said, ‘That’s not what the ad on TV said,’” he said. “My mom has not gone to the Revel and will not go in the future.”
THE FINE PRINT AND THE LAW
Before you say Conti is just a cranky customer, consider this: Consumer law experts say the ad campaign is misleading at best, and at worst, it’s dancing around the line of what’s legal.
We took close look at Revel’s ads for this promotion.
The television ad offers “fine print” at the very end, and the screen stays on for one second. Literally, one second.
After replaying and pausing the video, we copied down the text as it relates to the offer.
“Revel Card required. Minimum cumulative loss of $100 by July 31, 2013. Loss refunds are capped at $100,000. Only slot, video poker and electronic table game play is eligible. Losses are refunded over 20 weeks beginning August 5, 2013 in the form of Free Slot Play.”
The web site, as Conti noted, has essentially the same fine print, listed in 7-point Calibri letters at the bottom of the “gaming” page.
The radio spots offer even less detail. Like the television ad, it says, “If you lose, we’ll give it all back.” But the only “fine print” says, “See Player’s Club for details.”
The ad campaign must be working. Earlier this month, Revel reported its first-ever profitable week.
“I think the Revel has taken some liberties that go beyond what I feel is reasonable to attract gamblers to their casino. I think their TV ad is misleading and I would bet — five will get you 10 — that seniors have fallen prey to it,” he said. “The Revel has lost my business.”
The Federal Trade Commission’s publication “Advertising FAQ’s: A Guide for Small Business”; more than suggests what kind of clarity advertisements must have to stay within the law.
It says: “When the disclosure of qualifying information is necessary to prevent an ad from being deceptive, the information should be presented clearly and conspicuously so that consumers can actually notice and understand it.”
It continues: “A fine-print disclosure at the bottom of a print ad, a disclaimer buried in a body of text unrelated to the claim being qualified, a brief video superscript in a television ad, or a disclaimer that is easily missed on a website are not likely to be effective. Nor can advertisers use fine print to contradict other statements in an ad or to clear up misimpressions that the ad would leave otherwise.”
It offers this example: “If an ad for a diet product claims ‘Lose 10 pounds in one week without dieting,’ the fine-print statement ‘Diet and exercise required’ is insufficient to remedy the deceptive claim in the ad.”
It further says advertisers should use clear and unambiguous language, place any qualifying information close to the claim being qualified, and avoid using small type or any distracting elements that could undercut disclosures.
The FTC publication also says that there is no specific rule about the size of type in a print ad or the length of time a disclosure must appear on TV, but the FTC has often has taken action “when a disclaimer or disclosure is too small, flashes across the screen too quickly, is buried in other information, or is otherwise hard for consumers to understand.”
New Jersey also has something of note to say on the topic.
N.J.A.C. 13:45A-9.2a)5 says advertising disclaimers “shall be set forth in a type size and style that is clear and conspicuous relative to the other type sizes and styles used in the advertisement.”
We shared the Revel ads with a few consumer law experts.
“Both the video ad and the print ad have the capacity to deceive within the meaning of the Consumer Fraud Act,” said Madeline Houston, a West Caldwell consumer law attorney. “The video print is minuscule and even if it were enormous, it flashes on and off so quickly it is impossible to read.”
It goes further than that, said Adam Levin, a former director of the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs.
“The true definition of a refund is, ‘I give you the money back and you can do whatever you want with it,’” he said. “In this case, they’re saying, ‘We give you the money back and you can do what we want you to do with it.’”
Levin said the ads go beyond “fine print” and into “mouse print” territory.
“They’re creating an environment of hoops you have to go through to get your full refund,” he said. “It creates a very sleazy feeling. You see the ad, and then you really see the ad, and you feel like you have to take a shower.”
We contacted Revel to discuss the promotion. A spokeswoman initially said someone from marketing would respond. After several days and no calls, we asked again.
“If you have a specific question beyond what is spelled out regarding refunds in the copy, I know Revel would be happy to respond,” the spokeswoman said in an email. “We are not saying no comment.”
So on Wednesday, Bamboozled emailed a list of questions detailing the FTC and New Jersey regulations and how they might pertain to Revel’s ads.
Revel did not respond to the questions or to our follow-up emails and phone calls.
We all know how much Atlantic City, and the entire state of New Jersey, want Revel to succeed, but we’re willing to bet it could do so without deceiving its customers.