India Starts To Impose Advertising Regulations On Online Gambling Vendors
India’s online gambling market has thrived in the last few years as market conditions have made it conducive for the industry. India for the most part has not legalized online gambling but that has not stopped offshore gaming operators from targeting Indian players and running a lucrative online gambling business in India.
Offshore gaming operators have managed to do this due to a loophole in existing gambling regulations in India. These iGaming operators have also used gambling advertisements to promote their brand and grow their customer base across India as there has been very little policing by the Indian government so far.
Gambling Addiction Forces Indian Government’s Hand
While the iGaming industry in India has grown by leaps and bounds over the last few years, there has also been a corresponding increase in gambling addiction. The COVID-19 pandemic forced Indians to stay indoors and seek their entertainment online. This also resulted in a spike in gambling addiction, gambling related debts and gambling related suicide.
Anti-gambling opponents have been campaigning hard for the last few years to get the attention of the Indian government and cause them to take more action in policing and restricting offshore gaming operators and their gambling advertisements. It looks like their efforts are finally paying dividends as the Indian government has decided to get involve and impose restrictions on gambling advertisements.
The Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (MIB) has sent out a memo and informed all Indian media, over-the-top platforms, digital publishers, and television broadcasters to refrain from airing online gambling advertisements. The regulator issued two advisories on October 3, 2022, deeming online gambling and betting ads a socio-economic and financial risk to Indian customers.
Airing Gambling Ads Violates Federal Law
The regulatory body stated that since sports betting and gambling were illegal in several parts of India, airing ads that promoted such platforms and their surrogate websites violated the Public Gambling Act of 1867. The 1867 act is the country’s lone federal law on gambling which forbids anyone from operating a public gambling house. The MIB added that since digital media and OTT platforms are popular channels for news and recent updates, airing such ads will harm the audience.
The ministry specifically mentioned online gambling and betting platforms such as PariMatch, Betway, Fairplay, 1xBet, and Wolf 777, whose direct or surrogate ads were aired by broadcasters. These platforms were featured in an exhaustive list jointly prepared by the MIB and the department of consumer affairs. Currently, online betting platforms and their adjuncts are illegal in the country. The two advisories seek to regulate the ads aired by broadcasters and digital publishers.
The regulator prohibited newspaper publishers and private television networks from publishing ads promoting online betting platforms in June. Violating the guidelines would invite punitive action under the applicable provisions of the Indian Penal Code (IPC). The advisories were based on the Cable TV Network Regulation Act 1995, Consumer Protection Act 2019, and the IT Rules 2021.
The Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI), a media voluntary standards and regulations agency, actively supported the move. The organization’s president Manisha Kapoor emphasized the importance of deterring gambling ads in sports broadcasts due to their influence on young viewers. Kapoor added that the government must intervene in the matter since betting is illegal in some parts of the country. According to him, the advisories highlighted the ASCI’s guidelines about legalized brand extensions.
Advisories Serve Public Interest
The government noted that the advisories served the public interest by curtailing gambling advertising on media forums and channels. The developments came after several incidents of suicides committed by Indian citizens, especially the youth surfaced. Young people in India are falling prey to gambling advertisements and signing up at these offshore gaming sites which don’t provide a lot of protection or education on gambling harm.
Since India does not have federal or state gambling regulators for the iGaming industry, it falls on the shoulders of the federal and state government to do more to protect Indians from gambling harm and unlicensed gambling advertisements. The steps taken by the MIB is the first serious attempt by the Indian government to police offshore gaming operators and gambling ads.
How will things play out in the iGaming industry in India? Will India be able to enforce gambling ad restrictions successfully across all media platforms? Will offshore gambling operators take the memo from MIB seriously and discontinue all of their gambling ads across all platforms? Will there be serious consequences for gambling operators who continue to advertise their gambling services to an Indian audience?
We will have to wait a few weeks to see if gambling operators continue to run their ads and target Indian players or if their ads will disappear and if so – for how long?