CHENNAI: The ongoing series between India and Australia has led to a new trend in the world of advertisements. Usually, cricket tours meant ad space for FMCGs, motorbikes and, recently, mutual funds. Over the last two months, though, the audience in India have seen ads for betway and dafabet, two online international sports betting companies.
It's a departure from the norm because many of the services offered by betway and dafabet are illegal in the country. Going by sports lawyers, placing a bet online whilst being in the country is a violation of India's laws.
"In India, online sports betting is illegal except in Sikkim," sports lawyer Vidushpat Singhania told this daily. "It could be tantamount to a FEMA (Foreign Exchange Management Act ) violation."
Even if dafabet and betway started advertising in a big way during the ongoing series, they are not new to the Indian market. Late in 2019, petitions were filed by Avinash Mehrotra, a social activist, and Deepti Bhagat, a lawyer, at the Delhi High Court, seeking a ban on these sport betting websites. The court asked the Centre and the Delhi government to treat the two petitions as representations before taking a call on banning the websites in question.
The Centre said they did not have the legislative capacity needed to block the websites (in India, they are state subjects). Mehrotra has since filed another PIL, again seeking a ban on these websites. The plea says the online betting system is a 'great place for carrying out hawala operations, laundering money etc. In fact, it is submitted that Foreign Exchange laws, as well as Income Tax laws, are also likely being violated today by the online gambling websites'.
While fixing the next date of hearing on January 29, the court issued a notice to the Centre. It asked the Ministries of Finance and Electronics and Information Technology to give their take on the matter.
Coming back to the issue at hand, it's learnt that betway currently services a number of clients from India. In essence, Indians are doing what Raj Kundra, the former co-owner of Rajasthan Royals, did before his name came up during the 2013 IPL scandal. This comparison was made by another sports lawyer who didn't want to be named.
In fact, betway has up to a Rs 2500 signing bonus for new customers from India. The offer, available on its homepage, says: "Terms: New Indian customers only. Min. Deposit: Rs 500. First deposit: matched up to Rs 2500. Deposit must be made within 7 days of registration. 6x wagering at 1.75x to complete playthrough."
Betway Limited indicate through a 'note' that 'we only offer our services to customers where it is legal to gamble'. Under its restrictions section, India's name is not there.
While TV channels are banned from showing advertisements of sports betting companies, this is an undefined area for OTT platforms. In this regard, they may have found a loophole because the advertisements — in the form of L shaped ones — have only been featured on SonyLIV. SonyLIV refused to respond to queries raised by this newspaper.
It's a similar sort of thing with dafabet. "The bigger and better bonuses for all our new Indian players," its website says. "Take advantage of our fantastic offers and boost your initial deposit upto INR 30000".
Even if dafabet may appear to be new in terms of advertising, dafanews, a surrogate, has made its presence felt over the last year or so. Dafanews, a sports news website, is the official partner of three Indian Super League clubs (Chennaiyin FC, Bengaluru FC and Mumbai City FC). As part of the agreement, dafanews' logo and name can be found on the jerseys of all three clubs. Apart from having the same logo as dafabet, dafanews' home page has multiple links that will take the user to one of the pages inside the dafabet ecosystem, including dscricket.com. Dafabet did not respond to queries raised by this newspaper.
What's clear at this stage is that Indians have been using these portals. What's less clear at this point is the role played by the Centre in banning these websites.
Even if sports betting/gambling are state subjects, Centre does issue regular directions to internet service providers to block websites that are violating laws, including state laws. Earlier this year, multiple states including Andhra Pradesh had passed ordinances banning online gambling specifically.
Andhra Pradesh's chief minister, YS Jaganmohan Reddy, had subsequently sent a letter on October 27, 2020, to the Union Minister for Communications, Electronics & Information Technology, and Law & Justice, Ravi Shankar Prasad, seeking a direction to ISPs to block a list of 136 websites, including dafabet and betway. However, these websites continue to be accessible for people living in Andhra Pradesh.
The Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology did not respond to the paper's queries on the Centre's stance on the issue and whether action has been taken following Jaganmohan's letter. The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) refused to comment to queries raised by this newspaper.
(With inputs from Sesa Sen and Jonathan S Ananda)