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Govt moves to keep betting ads in check

The I&B ministry said offshore betting platforms are using surrogate news websites to advertise on digital media, and logos of these surrogate sites have striking resemblance to betting platforms. (Photo: HT)Premium
The I&B ministry said offshore betting platforms are using surrogate news websites to advertise on digital media, and logos of these surrogate sites have striking resemblance to betting platforms. (Photo: HT)

  • TV channels, websites told to refrain from showing surrogate online betting ads
  • The information and broadcasting ministry issued two advisories to rein in surrogate ads of online betting sites

The ministry of information and broadcasting on Monday issued two advisories, asking private television channels, digital news publishers and over-the-top (OTT) platforms, to refrain from showing surrogate ads of online betting sites, as they are a significant financial and socio-economic risk for consumers.

The ministry warned that offshore betting platforms are using surrogate news websites to advertise on digital media, and logos of these surrogate sites have striking resemblance to betting platforms. Neither the betting platforms nor the news websites are registered by any legal authority in India, it added. Violation of the advisory will invite penal action under applicable laws, the ministry said in the advisory notes.

In June, the ministry issued an advisory asking newspapers, private TV channels and digital news publishers to refrain from publishing ads of online betting platforms. “It came to the notice of the government that several sports channels on television, and OTT platforms, have recently been showing advertisements of offshore online betting platforms as well as their surrogate news websites," it said.

Platforms such as Fairplay, PariMatch, Betway, Wolf 777, and 1xBet are promoting betting and gambling under the garb of news, the I&B ministry said. The department of consumer affairs provided a list of online betting platforms which were using news for surrogate advertising, including professional sports blogs and news websites.

Since betting and gambling is illegal in most parts of the country, ads of betting platforms and their surrogates are also illegal, it said. The advisories were issued as per provisions of the Consumer Protection Act 2019, Cable TV Network Regulation Act, 1995, and IT Rules, 2021, the ministry said. “Promotion of offline or online betting or gambling through advertisements is not advised in larger public interest."

Manisha Kapoor, chief executive officer of self-regulatory body Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI), said betting and its advertising are restricted by law in India. “We have seen such advertising on cricket platforms and in casual gaming apps. Since these are in potential breach of the law, broadcasters and platforms must be careful of the regulations that govern them," she said. Airing such ads is harmful not just for consumers but also for the reputation of platforms and channels, accepting such ads, Kapoor added.

“ASCI has clear guidelines for legitimate brand extensions allowed by law. However, when a product category itself is outlawed in parts of India, the government has to step in. Given that cricket is watched by a wide audience, including children, it is disappointing to see the ads. We hope the advisories act as deterrents given that a clear penal action has been indicated," she added.

The government has been tightening its noose on companies advertising via surrogates, said Meenakshi Menon, communication specialist and founder of Spatial Access Pvt. Ltd, an audit and advisory in marketing. “It seems the government wants a share of the pie. While using the law, they are preventing the entire betting and gambling system that is bypassing the exchequer. In the next six months, we may see some sort of formalization in this space." she said.

Communications strategy consultant Karthik Srinivasan said the government is just reinforcing the existing law by saying all kinds of betting is already banned in India so how is it that these types of companies are being allowed to promote their services just because they are operating on the internet? "They seem to be using a grey area to advertise by seeking legitimacy via Indian celebrities and advertising along with TV news channels. I think that it's a good move in the right direction. Much like the loan apps, these can lead a lot of people to lose their hard-earned money," he said.

IPR lawyer Safir Anand added that offshore companies (like these) can't partake in such activities as the game/contest and its corresponding advertising itself is illegal in India.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Lata Jha

Lata Jha covers media and entertainment for Mint. She focuses on the film, television, video and audio streaming businesses. She is a graduate of the Columbia School of Journalism. She can be found at the movies, when not writing about them.
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