In the recent English High Court case of Parker-Grennan v Camelot UK Lotteries Ltd (2023), the claimant (Ms Parker-Grennan) engaged in an online instant lottery game, aiming to align "your numbers" with the "winning numbers". The pivotal moment arrived when the number 15 matched, accompanied by a vibrant green circle and a message signalling a £10 win from her £5 stake. However, she discerned another match: the number one, which held the grand prize of £1m. Strangely, there was no fanfare, green circle, or message for this potentially life-altering event.
Armed with a screenshot, Ms Parker-Grennan embarked on a quest for the maximum jackpot, only to be met with Camelot's assertion that a coding error had caused the screen to show the second matching pair, and her actual win was the modest tenner, rather than the £1m jackpot.
Camelot's defence hinged on their meticulously crafted terms and conditions, reachable via hyperlinks and endorsed by the customary "click-wrap" method, involving checkbox confirmation and game selection from a drop-down menu. Updates to terms were flagged upon site entry and required specific acknowledgement.
Camelot relied on various terms within their T&Cs. One of these was that the game's procedure actually stipulated that outcomes were predetermined by Camelot's computer system at the point of purchase. Successful matches were to be indicated by white writing, flashing numbers encircled in green and accompanied by a message revealing the amount won.
Camelot's legal standpoints included:
- Invalid plays - Camelot could invalidate plays not on their official "Winning Plays" list, and
- Discrepancies - Camelot retained the right to nullify wins inconsistent with their predetermined results.
A critical clause conferred "final and binding" authority to Camelot's decisions regarding winning plays and prize disputes, so long as “it (was) a reasonable decision”.
Ms Parker-Grennan contested on two fronts:
- Incorporation of terms - she questioned if the terms were properly incorporated into their contract, and
- Imbalance in terms - she asserted that (if they were deemed incorporated) the terms created an imbalance between Ms Parker-Grennan and Camelot rendering them unenforceable under the Unfair Terms in Consumer Contracts Regulations 1999.
The court swiftly dismissed the incorporation concern, deeming the "click-wrap" technique valid. As for imbalance, the judge examined whether the terms were one-sided and found that they created some level of imbalance between the parties, but he ultimately found that they were akin to standard game rules, not unusual or unfairly unbalanced, and he acknowledged Camelot's right to determine winning plays, given their rationale (that this process ensured the integrity of the game and protected Camelot’s odds and pricing structure) and the stipulated requirement for "reasonableness" by them.
Readers might recall the similar 2021 case of Green v Betfred. In that case the gambling website, Betfred, was not protected from the effect of a software error by its terms and conditions and was forced to pay out £1.7m to Mr Green.
Key distinctions from the Green v Betfred case:
- Structure of terms - Camelot's terms were organised under logical headings, unlike Betfred's scattered clauses and lack of signposting.
- Usability - Camelot's terms were clear and divided into digestible sections, enhancing user experience. The drafting in the Green case was called “an egregious case of bad drafting and unfairness at all relevant stages”, containing repetitive, unnumbered, and closely-typed paragraphs, which I am sure did wonders for the career of the drafting lawyer.
- Acceptance - Ms Parker-Grennan's acceptance was explicit, through checkboxes. Mr. Green, however, never needed to tick an 'accept box' for the terms containing the key exclusion clause and this did not prevent him from continuing to play.
Ultimately, the Parker-Grennan v Camelot case further underscores the significance of transparent, user-centric online terms and conditions. It reiterates the importance of clarity, usability, and conspicuousness, while reaffirming that commercial justifications could validate certain imbalances in terms.