Namah Chawla

Will online betting players now resort to surrogate advertising?

The I&B Ministry has issued an advisory for print and digital media to refrain from publishing ads of online betting platforms.

With an increasing number of advertisements by online gaming/betting platforms, the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting has issued an advisory to caution print and electronic media to refrain from publishing advertisements of online betting platforms.

The advisory has been issued following a meeting between the ministry and ministries of Consumer Affairs, and Electronics & IT, along with Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI), News Broadcasters Association (NBA), Indian Broadcasting Foundation (IBF), All India Gaming Federation (AIGF), Federation of Indian Fantasy Sports (FIFS), and Online Rummy Federation (ORF).

The ministry, in the advisory, says concerns have been raised that such platforms promote betting and gambling which is prohibited in India and that it “poses a significant financial and socio-economic risk for the consumers, especially youth and children.”

It also states that the advertisements of online betting are misleading and do not comply with the guidelines of the Consumer Protection Act, 2019.

Online and social media, including the online advertisement intermediaries and publishers, are also advised not to display such advertisements in India or target such advertisements towards the Indian audience.

Sports-led properties like Indian Premier League (IPL) and others also attract a lot of these online and fantasy gaming platforms to advertise on it. The latest TAM Sports report revealed that ecom-gaming category was the top advertising category during IPL 15, while it ranked second in IPL 14.

How will the ministry's advisory impact these big advertiser's media plans and marketing strategy? Few experts believe that these platforms might adopt the route of surrogate advertising just as alcohol brands do. However, the surrogate ads might not be as effective for online gaming platforms since their business models have emerged recently and still need to build awareness through marketing campaigns.

Jay Sayta, technology and gaming lawyer informs, that this advisory is primarily targeted towards foreign online gambling and betting websites and their surrogates that were blatantly advertising through print, electronic and digital media illegally in contravention of state and central laws.

"This advisory will not apply to domestic online 'real money skill gaming' operators such as poker, rummy and fantasy sports websites that are incorporated in India and are complying with the laws of the land," Sayta adds.

It is important to note that these guidelines will not impact all online gaming platforms, especially the ones who offer skill-based games. However, the ones whose major offering consists of luck-based games might need to alter their media and advertising strategies.

Trinity Gaming's (a gaming content and marketing company) co-founder and CEO, Abhishek Aggarwal says that their platform works in the casual and skilled gaming space and hosts a number of domestic and international players. Hence they don't see any negative impact in the space as they abide by the local government regulations.

"However, this new advisory will definitely impact players who specifically work in the betting platform space with their marketing mandates to attract Indian users, their advertising & publicity budgets and strategy," adds Aggarwal.

The ministry had also issued an advisory to TV channels on December 4, 2020, to adhere to the ASCI guidelines on advertisements of online gaming that state the following:

-No gaming ad may depict persons under the age of 18, or who appear to be under the age of 18, engaging in online gaming for real winnings, or suggest that such persons can play these games.

-Every gaming advertisement must carry disclaimers in print/static and audio/video stating that there are financial risks and may be addictive.

-In print such a disclaimer should occupy no less than 20 per cent of the ad space.

-In audio/video, the disclaimer must be in normal speaking pace, and same language as the advertisement.

-For audio-visual mediums, the disclaimer must be in audio-visual format.

-The ads must not present online gaming as an income opportunity or alternative employment option.

-The ads must not present persons engaging in gaming activity to be more successful than others.

Cover image courtesy: Chris Liverani on Unsplash

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