Dave & Buster's scolded for false advertising

Advertising claims that kids can play video games for free at Dave & Buster's (PLAY) restaurants are misleading, regulators for the industry said Monday.

The Children's Advertising Review Unit of the Advertising Self-Regulatory Council concluded that hard-to-read disclaimers in TV commercials stipulated that to qualify for free games, consumers had to make a purchase. The panel told Dave & Buster's that it should discontinue the claims in future promotions where any purchases are required.

At issue was a commercial in which Dave & Buster's made this offer: "Just tell us 'kids rule' and you can play video games free until 3!" The offer was originally made during the summer.

However, the terms of the deal had this limitation: "Free play is only valid with the same day $20 Power Card purchase or reload." In other words, you had to spend at least $20 at Dave & Buster's location to play anything for free. The commercial further limited free play by including it only on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday and excluding certain games, as well as periods when other promotions were underway.

The industry watchdog group, which sets policies and procedures for ads and which is administered by the Council of Better Business Bureaus, concluded that $20 "is a substantial charge and neither the child nor the parent, who presumably would have to pay the fee, would consider this free."

When making such claims, the panel said, the claim of "free" should truly mean that something is, indeed, free.

In response, Dave & Buster's expressed disappointment in the finding and contended that the company's offer was clear. "While we disagree, we will accept the decision and agree to modify or remove the 'Free Video Games' offer from this TV spot in the future," the company said in a statement.

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    Mitch Lipka is an award-winning consumer columnist. He was in charge of consumer news for AOL's personal finance site and was a senior editor at Consumer Reports. He was also a reporter for The Philadelphia Inquirer and the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, among other publications.