Gambling sites, influencers openly flout govt advisory

new Delhi More than a dozen celebrities, including top actors, cricketers and other macro and mid-tier influencers, are in potential breach of government advice as they appear in ads for betting websites and apps and their surrogate news sites.

In October, the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting banned online betting advertisements and surrogates on TV and digital platforms. But a number of popular influencers, such as cricket commentators Sanjay Manjrekar and Aakash Chopra, are appearing in Parimatch News and Betway’s online gambling ad campaigns.

In a video posted on Instagram on November 9, online betting site Fairplay featured Ranbir Kapoor, Kiara Advani, Sunil Narine, Mithali Raj, Saina Nehwal, Mary Kom and Eoin Morgan in their advertisements. Actor Esha Gupta was signed as the brand ambassador of online betting app KhelRaja. Rannvijay Singh Singha and Kevin Pietersen advertising on Betway’s homepage.

This is despite the ministry’s advisory naming Fairplay, Parimatch, Betway, Wolf 777 and 1xBet. All India Gaming Federation chief executive Roland Lander said the body is trying to create awareness against the menace of illegal gambling websites. “The most problematic aspect of these offshore websites is how they promote and advertise illegal products. We see influential people from sports and entertainment backgrounds endorsing these products.”

The government issued two advisories in June and October to private TV channels as well as digital news publishers and OTT platforms, asking them to refrain from airing advertisements, including surrogate advertisements of online betting sites, that are misleading to consumers. Can pose significant financial and socioeconomic risks. The companies were asked to remove the ads within two weeks.

“Gambling is illegal in most states. Advertising as a legitimate product or service is misleading. Since they are clearly doing some illegal propaganda, the CCPA can take action against the influencers,” said Dhruv Garg, a Delhi-based tech policy and legal consultant.

According to industry estimates, the withdrawal of such ads has resulted in minimal loss to TV and other broadcaster advertisers. 1,500 crores annually.

The ministry said that offshore online betting platforms were using surrogate news portals with logos that were very similar to home pages of gambling sites and that these betting platforms were not registered by any legal authority. The advisory, however, does not ban influencers, as many feel that the influencer community has a moral responsibility to avoid appearing in these ads.

Under the Consumer Protection Act, an influencer must take moral responsibility for promoting a product as it is also illegal to advertise an illegal and misleading product.

Garg said illegal offshore gambling companies largely use three methods to interact with potential customers. One is to attract the attention of unsuspecting consumers through advertisements. Two, they extort huge amounts of money from consumers using dubious financial channels. Finally, they circumvent government surveillance through a large number of mirror websites.

At the very least, attempts to lure consumers can be stopped if broadcasters and people advertising products don’t participate in these campaigns and stop advertising any real estate to such illegal offshore websites.

Under the Constitution of India, betting and gambling comes under the purview of state governments. Garg asked, “If something is clearly illegal, as in this case, a game of chance, then how can such illegal activity be allowed to operate so openly in any domain?”

Manisha Kapoor, chief executive of the self-regulatory body, Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI), said the posts appear to be in violation of CCPA guidelines and fall under the category of advertisements prohibited by law. “Gambling is not permitted by law in most parts of India. I&B Ministry is taking cognizance of the violations. Also, the Ministry of Consumer Affairs is the nodal ministry for all advertising related issues and they can look into that as well.”

ASCI has specific guidelines for influencers, mandatory disclosures, and tools to monitor their activities. It is also taking up cases on reports of violations. At least 30% of cases in 2021 were related to influencers. “Influencers and other endorsers are covered under the Consumer Protection Act 2021, and there are penalties prescribed in the law. However, with no central act relating to gambling, there may be a lack of clarity on how certain issues are being interpreted by regulators, influencers and platforms,” ​​said Kapoor.

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