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India has asked Google to stop displaying surrogate ads of overseas betting companies such as Fairplay, PariMatch, Betway and 1xBet in search results and YouTube, amid a crackdown on illegal online gambling.

The latest request comes two months after the government asked broadcasters and video streaming services to drop such advertisements.

A person in the ministry of information and broadcasting (MIB) aware of the development said a letter was sent last week to Google India asking the internet giant to immediately drop all advertising—direct or surrogate—from these betting platforms.

“After our last advisory on 3 October, TV channels and OTT players stopped showing surrogate ads of online betting firms, but it was brought to our notice that many such ads are running on YouTube and Google. We have asked Google to stop this immediately," said a senior ministry official.

The Centre is concerned that many Indians are getting addicted to or losing money to online betting companies that are operating on the technicality of not having servers or a physical presence in India, the official said. Online betting is banned in many Indian states.

The ministry has concluded that such betting sites pose significant financial and socio-economic risks for consumers, especially youth and children.

Overall, 5,000 crore is being deposited in the accounts of multiple agents of these companies in India every month, according to estimates by the All India Gaming Federation (AIGF). However, there is no clarity on where this money is going or how it’s being used, the lobby group claims.

An email query sent to a spokesperson for Google did not elicit any response till press time.

The government noticed that these online betting platforms abroad are using news websites as surrogate products to advertise betting platforms on digital media. However, even the logos of surrogate news websites bear a striking resemblance to the betting platforms.

Earlier, the ministry had “strongly advised" TV channels as well as digital news publishers to refrain from broadcasting ads from such betting platforms or their surrogate news websites, reminding TV channels that violation may invite penal action. The ministry had also advised online advertisement intermediaries not to target such advertisements at Indians.

“The MIB can direct platforms to stop carrying and further refrain from publishing advertisements for overseas betting companies in India," said Kaushik Moitra, partner at Bharucha and Partners. “The advisories of MIB stipulate that betting and gambling are classified as illegal activities in many states, and publication of such ads will be in violation of the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021. Further, in terms of paragraph 9 of the Guidelines for Prevention of Misleading Advertisements and Endorsements for Misleading Advertisements, 2022, framed under the Consumer Protection Act, 2019, since betting and gambling are classified as ‘illegal activities’ in most states, the advertisement thereof is prohibited by law."

Moitra said such ads may also violate the guidelines on online gaming issued by the Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI), which set out the best practices for advertisements of online gaming.

AIGF, which has been lobbying against these offshore betting companies, pointed out that the most problematic aspect of these offshore websites is how they promote and advertise their illegal products.

“They had been pushing incessant ads during telecasts of sporting events. Additionally, they have been using print and digital media along with sponsorships of sports teams, to further penetrate the psyche of the consumer. We even see prominent influencers with sports and entertainment backgrounds endorsing such," said Roland Landers, CEO of AIGF. “The MIB and the ministry of consumer affairs have come out with strict advisories against direct advertisements and surrogate advertisements by offshore and illegal gambling websites. This has resulted in a significant reduction in offshore gambling ads."

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