In one of our previous blogs, “Covid-19 and Online Gaming in India”, the Guidelines issued by the Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) in respect of advertisements of online gaming for real money winnings were covered.
The stated Guidelines which became effective from December 15, 2020, essentially included not showing persons under 18 years of age engaging in such online games for real money winnings in advertisements; print as well as audio/video advertisements carrying the disclaimer that these games involve financial risk, may be addictive and should be played responsibly; not depicting online gaming as an income opportunity/alternative employment option and not suggesting that persons involved in such gaming activity are more successful than others in such advertisements.
Subsequently, the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting (MIB) issued an advisory dated June 13, 2022, urging the publishers of news and current affairs content on digital media to abstain from publishing advertisements on online betting platforms online and on social media. The online advertisement intermediaries were also advised to not target such advertisements towards the Indian audience.
As also discussed in our previous blogs, betting and gambling are prohibited in most parts of the country. Consequently, the advertisements directed to betting and gambling are also prohibited under Paragraph 9 (Advertisements prohibited by law) of the Guidelines for Prevention of Misleading Advertisement and Endorsements for Misleading Advertisements, 2022 under the Consumer Protection Act, 2019 and thus, the purpose of issuance of the above advisories/guidelines is to avoid causing any noteworthy financial or socio-economic risk to the consumers, particularly the youth and the children.
On October 3, 2022, the MIB issued two new strongly-worded advisories, one to private news channels and one to online news websites and OTT platforms with a view to avoiding and ceasing broadcasting advertisements of online betting platforms and/or their surrogate news websites or any such product/service portraying these platforms in a surrogate manner. This was done after it came to the notice of MIB that the promotions and advertisements of betting platforms are still visible and active on certain news and OTT platforms, and that some online offshore betting platforms have begun using news websites as a surrogate product to advertise betting platforms on digital media. The online advertisement intermediaries have been once again advised to not aim such advertisements towards the Indian audience.
The advisories were supplemented with evidence which contained direct and surrogate advertisements of offshore betting platforms such as Fairplay, PariMatch, Betway, Wolf 777, and 1xBet (a company that has been banned in the US, the UK and Russia).  Prima facie, it also appeared that many betting platforms were also using Google Adsense to target search users. Additionally, many of these were ads clearly seen plastered over news websites in many of these incidents. 
In the said advisory, the MIB has emphasized that advertisements of betting platforms, being an illegal activity, cannot be shown on digital media, in accordance with the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules 2021. It has further been observed by the MIB that the logos of the concerned news websites (these websites are not registered under any legal authority as per the Indian laws) are similar to the betting platforms. The advisory states that the Department of Consumer Affairs has also found that the online betting platforms have been promoting themselves as professional sports blogs, sports news websites, etc. while providing an indicative list of the online betting platforms which are using news websites, etc. for surrogate advertising.
It must be noted that skill-based games do not come under the purview of this advisory, as was also stated by Roland Landers, CEO, of All India Gaming Federation (AIGF) who is confident that the advisory will bring about clarification between betting and gambling games and skill-based games. “We have been consistent to bring to the notice of the MIB the menace of offshore gambling companies such as 1XBet, and fairplay fantasy, among others, advertising. Just to clarify that most of the gaming companies in India have fought and won in court that fantasy games and pay-to-play games (real money gaming) are skill-based games. Hence, they don’t fall under the advisory.”
In view of the above, it is sincerely hoped that such encouraging efforts made by the self-governing ASCI and the MIB are successful in suppressing any unfair intrusions in the online news websites and OTT platforms so that the larger public interests are safeguarded.
- Advisory No. DM/15/2022-DM