Despite I&B ministry advisory, airtime for surrogate betting advertisement

Ever since live sport returned to TV screens across India following the first lockdown, the advertisement industry has evolved.
Image of betting used for representation. (Express Illustration)
Image of betting used for representation. (Express Illustration)

CHENNAI: Ever since live sport returned to TV screens across India following the first lockdown, the advertisement industry has evolved. A bevy of cryptocurrency-based companies occupied prime slots.

A year later, all the crypto companies, too, have exited. The market has witnessed a huge crash for instance, bitcoin, the blue riband crypto, is down 48 per cent over the last 12 months so there is less demand.

The next great pandemic-era advertising is seemingly sports betting companies. They have been frequently seen on over-the-top (OTT) platforms over the last 20 months or so (betway and 1xBet to give two examples).

On TV, they have been present in the form of surrogates (dafanews and 1xBat to give two examples).

The presence of sports betting websites in itself is a red flag because betting is illegal in vast parts of India. It's a game of chance and games of chance cannot be played in India according to the Public Gambling Act (there are some exceptions as gambling is a state subject).

A few months ago, the Union government issued a strongly-worded advisory.

"Betting and gambling," it said, "(is) illegal in most parts of the country, (they) pose significant financial and socio-economic risk for the consumers, especially youth and children".

The advisory has not been adhered to strictly. Over the last two weeks or so, the OTT-arm of the Indian broadcaster of the Asia Cup carried advertisements of 1xBet (with the words 'professional sportsblog' appearing underneath in a very small font), a Russian firm founded more than a decade ago. The 'professional sportsblog' is a surrogate.

Two of India's World Cup winners, Yuvraj Singh and Suresh Raina, have been promoting the 'professional sportsblog'. While the former announced the association on December 27, 2021, Raina did so on March 18, 2022 (another platform, BetWinner News, has Harbhajan Singh as the public face).

Even the Indian cricket board (BCCI) has reportedly asked their players to not endorse products like crypto and betting companies.

One organisation that has been tracking these developments in the Indian advertising space is the Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI). In a statement made available to this daily, they conceded that 'prima facie some of these ads may be in violation of the laws of difference states'. But, as an entity, ASCI aren't empowered to block or restrict advertisements as it falls beyond their remit.

"The decision to ban or restrict advertising of a category can only be decided by the law, not by ASCI," Manisha Kapoor, CEO and secretary general of the body, informed this daily.

"Since such ads are a potential violation of the law than the ASCI code, it is a matter for the judiciary and states to take up for consumer protection. This falls beyond ASCI's remit. We will of course support the government in the monitoring of such ads if asked for."

This report will be updated if and when the people and the companies named respond to the queries raised.

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The New Indian Express