Offshore gambling and betting apps continue to aggressively market themselves on social media platforms despite the government prohibiting ads of betting and gambling.
The Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (MIB) last week released an advisory asking TV, print, and digital media platforms against carrying ads that “is in the nature of advertisement or surrogate advertisement or promotion of an online game that is not a permissible online game.”
But as the Asia Cup and Caribbean Premier League get underway, offshore gambling platforms are actively running marketing campaigns aimed at these viewers on digital platforms to cash in on the excitement. Several high-profile celebrities and influencers, with millions of followers, have been endorsing these apps on their social media channels, including Instagram.
As the various international and local sporting tournaments, including the Asia Cup, Caribbean Premier League, and Uttar Pradesh T20 League, get underway, illegal betting and gambling sites have increased visibility:
Parimatch India is running several promotions: a Cricket Quiz with prizes like iPhones and signed merchandise by their brand ambassador, cricketer Nicholas Pooran. It has also introduced a feature called ‘PM Gurus’ for the Asia Cup, giving users a chance to win a share of a Rs. 350,000 prize pool along with other cricket-themed prizes.
Trinidadian cricketer Sunil Narine is promoting ID247 with a variety of offers, including welcome bonuses, losing commissions and loyalty bonuses, specifically during the Asia Cup and Caribbean League.
1xBat, a surrogate for betting website 1Xbet, is the main sponsor of the Sri Lankan team and runs various social media campaigns with its cricketing brand ambassador, Dwane Bravo.
Lotus365 has roped in celebrities like Simran Kaur, Krishna Mukherjee, Iswarya Menon, Nidhi Shah, Amritha Thendral, Tejasswi Prakash and Nivetha Pethuraj for an Instagram marketing blitz to get people to register on Lotus365 and start betting.
The other big platforms—Dafabet, FairPlay, Fun88—all have a wide range of promotions and betting bonuses throughout the tournament. Robin Uthappa, brand ambassador of Crickex, is calling on his followers to make predictions for the Caribbean league.
Notably, both 1xBet and Lotus365 were on the list of 138 betting platforms to be banned by MeitY in an order issued on February 5 earlier this year for flouting Section 69 of the IT Act. Often, when a platform is banned, they change their domain name to circumvent the rules (from lotus.com, to lotus365.com to lotus365.in.)
Many other apps on the ban list such as Dafabet and Fun88 not only continue to operate but, like Parimatch and Lotus365, are increasing their visibility during high-profile sporting events like the Asia Cup.
Turning A Blind Eye
The MIB has so far introduced four advisories asking online betting platforms to refrain from showing advertisements, including surrogate content. Yet, betting sites continue to advertise.
One reason for this could be the ambiguity surrounding the legal definition of what constitutes a “permissible online game,” says Utkarsh Srivastava, a tech lawyer practicing in Delhi and Lucknow High Courts. The Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY), in an April 6 notification, stated that a game is permissible if verified by a Self-Regulatory Organization (SRO) in line with the online gaming rules.
“However, since the setting up of an SRO will take some time, the rules cannot be enforced,” he added.
Reports say that Meity has received three proposals so far within the deadline of July 6 that it had set. These proposals come from various groups, including a group supported by two gaming industry associations: the E-Gaming Federation (EGF) and the Federation of Indian Fantasy Sports (FIFS), the All India Gaming Federation (AIGF), and an esports player body known as Esports Players Welfare Association (EPWA).
“While the government follows due process and vets these applications, it may result in a scenario where illegal betting and gambling sites take advantage of the situation and capitalize on ongoing sports tournaments,” Srivastava said.
Many other illegal betting and gambling sites are seizing the moment during these high-profile sporting events. Srivastava believes that once an SRO is created, it would result in a curtailing of such illegal betting and gambling activities in the country.