IPL, elections are all fair game on illegal betting apps

The Advertising Standards Council of India has started crawling the internet to expose these illegal betting apps, but platforms like 1xBET, JannatBook247, MostBet, WinBuzz, Satta Sport, and YuvrajOnline Book continue to openly advertise online.
The Advertising Standards Council of India has started crawling the internet to expose these illegal betting apps, but platforms like 1xBET, JannatBook247, MostBet, WinBuzz, Satta Sport, and YuvrajOnline Book continue to openly advertise online.

Summary

Illegal betting apps exploit loopholes in regulations to promote themselves extensively on social media, and even on public transportation and hoardings across the country

NEW DELHI : Amid the Supreme Court's teardown on misleading advertisements by Patanjali Ayurved and other consumer goods companies, another sinister issue of problematic ads has emerged, this time involving illegal betting platforms.

Some of these leverage India's biggest sporting extravaganza, the Indian Premier League; some even accept punts on the world's largest democratic exercise: India's national election.

The Advertising Standards Council of India has in the past few weeks flagged more than 500 such online advertisements by such illegal betting platforms.

The development exposes a wider problem of betting on mega events such as the IPL, reminiscent of the scandals that plagued Indian cricket in the 1990s. While illegal betting rings have thrived even after government crackdowns, they have mostly remained below the radar.

Also read: Patanjali ads cast a long shadow over FMCG sector

The advertising council, a self-regulatory body backed by the ministry of consumer affairs, keeps trawling the internet for these illegal betting platforms, but entities 1xBET, JannatBook247, MostBet, WinBuzz, Satta Sport, and YuvrajOnline Book continue to openly advertise online.

The apps and platforms exploit loopholes in regulation to promote themselves extensively on social media, public transport, and even on hoardings across the country. In fact, ads by 1xBET persistently feature on hoardings and cabs in urban areas.

Hidden in plain sight

The ministry of information and broadcasting has issued several advisories against those found advertising for betting companies. These advisories and warnings have put a complete stop to such ads on TV, video-streaming platforms and print media.

Still, a large number of them continue to evade detection. The main reason is that many of these companies don't have servers in India and thus don't follow Indian laws. The apps operate illegally, exposing users to financial losses with no legal recourse. 

In an earlier interview to Mint, betting app Parimatch International CEO Anton Rublievskyi had stated that three leading offshore betting companies combined handled monthly deposits worth over $1 billion a month from India.

Some platforms like JannatBook allow users to place bets on the results of the ongoing Lok Sabha general election. Such ads also include extensive promotions through influencers on social media platforms. 

Between September and March, ASCI has provided information and links to 1,307 direct betting and gambling ads, tags and tickers. In March alone, the body found 400 such ads. 

Also read: Centre intensifies drive on betting ads for Asia, World Cup

“April has been no better with at least 200 such betting company ads that have been found. Another 100 are expected to be added to this list," Manisha Kapoor, CEO and secretary general of ASCI, told Mint.

“While we have seen such ads disappear from mainline media on account of the various advisories (from the government), they continue to appear on out-of-home media and digital media," she added. 

“We expect that the government would take a stringent view against these advertisers and media for violating the law. Our scrutiny mechanism has been put in place to single these advertisers out."

Ghost advertisers

But these efforts may not be enough because, as Kapoor admits, these are based on ASCI's scrutiny and not consumer complaints. 

“We directly provide information to the government as is and don't write to these advertisers as most of them have no contact details or addresses. So, the action which can be taken usually is only for the government to shut these websites down."

A lot of these businesses are playing on the fringes because of the lack of clear regulation and various interpretations available. 

“Each violative company is finding its own loophole and managing to get away with it," said Lloyd Mathias, an angel investor and a business strategist. “There's a very clear line of regulatory guidance needed. These types of brands which are on the fringes are going to use whatever opportunities are available to them to get on their feet."

Others feel similarly. “It's a lot more difficult to crack down on OOH (out-of-home) advertising since it's localized and more diversified," said Roland Landers, CEO of the All India Gaming Federation. “We have seen OOH advertising primarily in the form of large-scale outdoor hoardings, and ads on cabs, buses, autos and metro trains."

While the ministry of information and broadcasting has written to the chief secretaries of states to curb these as most of these mediums are under state control, it's hard to centralize this, Landers said. “There will have to be a concentrated effort between various state agencies to curb this at the local level."

A blame game 

One I&B ministry official, who did not want to be named, said the issue doesn't fall under the purview of the ministry, though it has asked state governments to act on the problem.

Also Read: I&B ministry prohibits online betting ads and surrogates on TV, digital platform

Delhi-based lawyer Dhruv Garg, who is also a technology law and policy expert, agrees. 

He said many advisories have been issued by the ministry of information and broadcasting, and there has been a complete curb on offshore betting and gambling advertisements on OTT platforms and sports channels for the last year or so. 

However, he has observed that there is a significant rise in advertisements through physical mode in the form of hoardings, and ads on autos and cabs. 

"The reason is that hoardings are regulated by municipal bodies and local administrations which are allowing such illicit ads to be placed freely," Garg added. “We can also see offshore gambling sites using social media accounts and handles to advertise themselves while they are allowing betting on elections as well."

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