MIB doubles down on betting ads advisory, industry exults but experts wary

Many industry leaders feel the move is unlikely to have any impact unless the government acts on offshore gambling platforms operating illegally in India

e4m by Kanchan Srivastava
Published: Oct 7, 2022 4:37 PM  | 5 min read

The Ministry of Information and Broadcasting's latest salvo against surrogate ads of gambling firms and the media houses that promote them has created a ripple effect across the media and advertising industry. 

While experts speculate that the industry is likely to incur AdEx losses in the range of Rs 4,000-5,000 crore annually if media houses toe the line, the Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) has welcomed the MIB move.

“The advertising ecosystem- the advertisers, agencies and broadcast and digital platforms- all have to be mindful of the laws of the country. Direct betting ads are a potential direct violation of the law and that’s why government intervention is needed”, says Manisha Kapoor, CEO and Director General of ASCI. 

Gaming and esports associations, who have been batting for such directives for a long time, also lauded the government for coming up with a directive for erring media houses. They believe that due to illegal betting activities, legitimate skill gaming also gets a bad name. 

Sameer Barde, CEO of E-Gaming Federation (EGF) says,  “We applaud the government’s recent advisory against illegal offshore gambling websites which has been rampant, especially in the garb of surrogate advertisements and news websites. This is a significant step to safeguard the players and industry at large by distinguishing legitimate skill gaming operators from illegal gambling sites that exploit vulnerable players.”

Barde added, “The EGF has constantly urged both federal ministries and state governments to curb the menace of these unscrupulous fly-by-night operators that have been flagrantly violating laws like the Prevention of Money Laundering Act of 2002, Foreign Exchange Management Act of 1999, Payment and Settlement Systems Act of 2007, Consumer Protection Act of 2019, etc.”

Roland Landers, CEO of the All India Gaming Federation also lauded the government for “taking such a decisive step” against illegal offshore gambling websites, which have been advertising in India in the garb of surrogate news and sports websites. 

"The move from the ministry will ensure that Indian citizens are educated about the risks on these platforms and do not get lured or tapped by the same," said Joy Bhattacharjya, Director-General of FIFS, expressing gratitude to MIB for such a step.  

Will advisory serve its purpose? 

Opinions are divided on whether the media houses and OTT channels will refrain from carrying surrogate advertisements for offshore betting firms. 

Many experts pointed out that the government was concerned only about the ads of these betting firms, but has been silent over their illegal business which is the root cause of the problem. 

Moreover, this advisory may not be applicable to domestic online 'real money skill gaming' operators (such as poker, rummy, and fantasy sports websites) even as some of these platforms are controversial and viewed as a game of chance not the game of skill.

Sam Balsara, chairman of Madison World, called for a clear divide between skill gaming and gambling to make the advisory effective.

Dr Sandeep Goyal, MD of Rediffusion, called the government exercise an eyewash: "If the government really wants to regulate the gaming sector, then there should be strict penalties including imprisonment for illegal gambling operators. That would be the only deterrent for them.”

While the Government has explicitly stated that betting ads are misleading and a financial/socio-economic risk for the consumers, especially youth and children, there hasn't been any instance where a platform or brand was penalized for running such ads, according to Shanu Jain, Vice President - Media Planning & Strategy, Dentsu Creative India. 

Landers echoes the sentiments and adds that advisory may serve little unless the government takes action. “A similar advisory was issued by MIB in June this year. No action has been taken against any media houses for flouting the advisory even as most of them have been massively promoting betting platforms ads over this period,” Landers said. 

Barde too demands stringent enforcement to crack down on such shady firms, “We now look forward to stringent enforcement so as to provide  necessary protection to players while ensuring the continuity of business for legitimate operators.”

According to Himanshu Arora, Co-Founder of Social Panga, Google and Facebook don't allow running ads of online betting platforms. 

“It has been left to individual publishers or OTT. And since choices were limited, they used to play a vital role in the advertising ecosystem. Due to these limitations, brands used to advertise on OTT & publishers directly and it used to form a considerable chunk of the revenue,” Arora said. 

He added, “But the same has been done with Alcobev category as well in the past, but through surrogate and innovative marketing, they are able to remain at the top of the mind. Going forward, betting brands may also explore such ways to reach out to the target group.”

What is the way out? 

As the first step, Jain suggests that consumers be educated about the risks of betting before they sign up for apps. 

“Currently, the ads do not talk about the reality of what happens when you participate in something like this. It’s very unlikely that Platforms will stop showing such Ads because they are equally getting benefit out of this,” the dentsu leader said. 

Barde believes the only way to curb betting effectively will be through overarching central regulations. “We are committed to providing our full cooperation to the government in creating a standard framework that will support the growth of a regulated, sustainable sector that not only adheres to these advisories but also encourages responsible gaming,” he said. 

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