gambling sites ads: ETtech Exclusive: Ads of betting, gambling sites still in play on social media

Brand Equity
 
gambling sites ads: ETtech Exclusive: Ads of betting, gambling sites still in play on social media
Super Slots
are continuing to aggressively advertise on social media platforms despite India’s new gaming regulations prohibiting betting and wagering of any kind.

This also places the websites and companies that deal in this space in contravention of guidelines from the Ministry of Information of Broadcasting, in early April, directing media companies and online advertisement intermediaries to refrain from carrying advertisements and promotional content related to betting platforms, legal experts told ET.

These apps such as FairPlay and Appa Book, are being promoted on social media platforms such as Instagram, Facebook and Youtube by high-profile personalities and micro-influencers many of whom command millions of followers.

Among these are television actresses and internet personalities who also fail to specify that the campaigns they are participating in are paid sponsorships or advertisements, despite it being mandated by the law. Pointing out that "betting and wagering on the outcome of a game has been prohibited under the new gaming rules," technology and gaming lawyer Jay Sayta told ET that all the “stakeholders are liable - the companies, the social media intermediaries (if they don't comply with the due diligence requirements) and the celebrities who promote them.” "The messaging from the government is very clear that these sites are illegal and should not be promoted. When it comes to social media intermediaries, the catch is that a complaint needs to be made - either by the government or a user - and if they fail to take it down, then they can be held responsible," he added.
In addition to promoting content on social media platforms these apps also use channels like popular messaging apps to get personalised access to customers.On signing up for FairPlay, users are sent a message on WhatsApp with a photograph of actors such as Jacqueline Fernandes and Sanjay Dutt, singer-rapper Badshah and cricketers like South Africa’s AB de Villiers and former Irish-English cricketer Eoin Morgan, all sporting a T-shirt with the brand name and a caption stating that FairPlay was 'the choice of 1 crore+ Indians.' With Appa Book, the messaging on WhatsApp was more aggressive with the company saying that it would offer a 2% bonus on a new ID while saying a minimum of 10 bets were needed. It also said that a 2% bonus on refill would be given just one time per day up to Rs 1 lakh only.ET has reviewed these messages and promotions.

Earlier this month, the Centre issued regulations to govern the online gaming industry, prohibiting games that involve wagering or betting with real money. Minister of State for Electronics and IT Rajeev Chandrasekhar said that the government would establish three self-regulatory organisations (SROs) that will approve games that comply with the rules for operation in the country.

"This makes these platforms illegal under the new rules. These rules come into force only three months after three SROs are established or unless the central government otherwise notifies, but even under the existing State laws and existing IT Rules, betting and gambling apps and their content are considered illegal," according to Sayta. Emails sent to FairPlay, Appa Book and social media platforms like Meta and Instagram went unanswered. YouTube in a response to ET said its policies do not allow content on the sale of illegal or regulated goods or services and spam, deceptive practices, and scams. Specifically, content that aims to directly sell, link to, or facilitate access to regulated goods and services, including online gambling sites not yet reviewed by Google or YouTube."This includes making the sale of these items or facilitating the use of these services possible by posting links, email, phone number or other means to contact a seller directly," the company said in a statement. It also added that content where the main purpose is to trick others into leaving YouTube for another site is prohibited.

States flag concerns

FairPlay has over 1.3 lakh followers on Instagram while Appa Book has more than 1.5 lakh followers on the platform. The reason betting and gambling is a widely debated issue is owing to the societal impact it has with several states flagging concerns surrounding addiction and suicides owing to debt from playing these games. On its website FairPlay calls itself 'India's biggest and most trusted betting exchange' while Appa Book explicitly states, 'We all want to try betting in our life somewhere.'

In previous editions of the Indian Premier Cricket League ( IPL) these betting and gambling apps were heavily advertised on television and even in print publications. This year, due to the stringent rules of the I&B Ministry, this has come down significantly," Satya said.

But there is no sign of such advertising abating on digital media. Creators and influencers on these platforms are made to prominently display the company logo and sign-up details even if the Reel or Short they've filmed has nothing to do with gambling and betting.

Noting that if a company “is openly marketing itself as a betting application on social media and otherwise, it can be investigated by the Central Consumer Protection Authority (CCPA)," Ashish Kumar Singh, partner at Capstone Legal said that "if it is claimed that their games are a ‘game of skill’ then it makes no sense for them to market it as betting. It amounts to an unfair trade practice."

When looking to sign up, a user is given a bunch of different payment options - bank transfer, PayTM, PhonePe, Google Pay and even a UPI ID to get the process started with Appa Book.

While, FairPlay has a Telegram group with 246.8k subscribers where they post updates on the different matches taking place and urge users to place bets. For instance, on Tuesday ahead of the IPL match between Gujarat Titans versus Mumbai Indians at 7:09pm, FairPlay posted a broadcast message saying the match was about to begin and asked users to place bets. At 9:20pm, it sent another message saying, "Mumbai Indians need 208 to win! Place your bets now." Finally, at 11:20pm, it said Gujarat Titans won by 55 runs and followed it up with, "Win big every day on FairPlay!" On Wednesday morning, FairPlay sent a message informing subscribers that the Royal Challengers Bangalore vs Kolkata Knight Riders match was on. "Join Fairplay today and place your bets for a chance to win big! Don't forget, with Fairplay, you get 5% lossback bonus on every match, 300% bonus on 1st deposit, and 50% bonus on 2nd deposit," it said. It even went on to claim that users could see the score on a site run by them before it appears on television while also providing a 'Self deposit and withdrawal' link and WhatsApp link to create a new ID.

Tax & money laundering concerns

There are also several other aspects that come into play from taxation to misleading advertisements and use of dummy bank accounts in some cases, “there are several different laws that they are violating," Sayta said.

Earlier on April 6, the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting advised media entities, media platforms and the online advertisement intermediaries to refrain from carrying advertisements and promotional content of betting platforms.

"The point clearly seems to be that the money is so good that people don't know how to refuse," Harish Bijoor, founder of Harish Bijoor Consults told ET. "But when it comes to a star, who actually put out their reputation, to promote something like this, it's certainly off by a yard. These actors and influencers are reaching out too far into an abyss of destroying their personal equity."

In February, the government also banned 138 Chinese betting apps for violating Section 69 of the IT Act. Late last year, the Centre also instructed Google to prohibit foreign online betting platforms, such as Betway and 1xBet, from distributing their advertisements in the country. However, the challenge with such platforms is that they can get a mirror site up and running in no time.

But the companies have tried to look at avenues like digital advertising and physical ads to dodge the I&B Ministry's advisory. They have begun advertising on hoardings and outdoor public spaces like bus stops as well as in vehicles like cabs, trains, and autos too. So much so that the Director of Enforcement, Vigilance and Disaster Management of Telangana tweeted on April 20 that the state government has banned betting and gambling apps and the advertisements showing such content was removed. "Citizens can complain to us through Twitter or our control room to get such prohibited content removed," the official handle tweeted along with a picture of a FairPlay advertisement at a bus stop that was being removed.