I&B Ministry Advisory Doesn’t Stop Sports Betting Commercials

Sportsbooks Replace Crypto as a Main Advertiser in Post-Pandemic Reality

The Covid-19 pandemic reality and the lockdowns brought massive changes in the general profile of TV and OTT advertisements. First, it was cryptocurrency-based businesses that flooded the prime slots, but the crash of the crypto market brought them down within a year. The emptied niche was quickly filled with ads directly or indirectly promoting sports betting companies.

Over-the-top (OTT) platforms have been frequently displaying commercials of sportsbook portals such as Betway and 1xBet over the last 20 months, while TV airtime has been crowded with indirect or surrogate ads showcasing news sites related to sports betting brands like Dafanews and 1xBat.

Surrogate advertisements promote related products or the so called ‘brand extensions’ in order to indirectly advertise products whose direct marketing is prohibited. For example, 1xBet has been advertised as a ‘professional sportsblog’, including during the recent Asia Cup by the OTT branch of the event’s broadcaster in India.

In June this year, the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (I&B) issued an advisory to print, electronic and digital media to avoid advertising sportsbook platforms including sites that offer online cricket betting for Indians.

According to the advisory, “betting and gambling (is) illegal in most parts of the country, (they) pose significant financial and socio-economic risk for the consumers, especially youth and children”.

“The advertisements of online betting are misleading, and do not appear to be in strict conformity with the Consumer Protection Act 2019, Advertising Code under the Cable Television Networks Regulation Act, 1995, and advertisement norms under the Norms of Journalistic Conduct laid down by the Press Council of India under the Press Council Act, 1978,” the text issued by the I&B Ministry stated.

However, even though it sounds rather heavy, the I&B Ministry advisory in practice looks like a gate in an open field. Not only sports betting and surrogate ads have been abundant across electronic media for almost two years especially around big cricket events, but a number of big cricket stars have been involved in promoting sportsbook platforms.

The 1xBet ‘professional sportsblog’ outlet took onboard Yuvraj Singh on December 27, 2021, and Suresh Raina on March 18, 2022 as brand ambassadors. Another Indian superstar, former cricketer and current cricket commentator Harbhajan Singh was roped in by BetWinner News in March this year.

Targeting at Its Best

It cannot be denied that such platforms are doing a superb job at targeting the audience that matters the most to their business – young fans of the sport. Studies have established that it is exactly young sports enthusiasts that drive India’s online betting market.

Adults between 18 and 24 years of age account for 41.7 percent of the registered 70,000 users of one sportsbook platform between June 2020 and September 2021. Together with the 25-34 age group, they take up nearly three quarters or 72.6 percent of all user sessions and player value. Men dominate with an 84 percent share, while males aged between 18 and 34 account for 62 percent of all registered bettors.

This significant audience is complementing its passion for sports by following news and commentaries on events and their favourite superstars along various electronic and digital channels and social media. Targeting young demographics by attracting big sports celebrities and securing a massive ads presence looks like a successful marketing strategy by betting platforms.

India Fails to Exercise Any Form of Control Over Betting

Indian central and state-level legislation spearheaded by the Public Gaming Act of 1867 forbids gambling and betting in most parts of the country, and a majority among the political class find it a good and morally justified cause to ban such activities.

Nevertheless, reality paints a different picture with estimates showing that the actual size of the Indian sports betting market reaches $150 billion (₹10 lakh crore) per year with most of that enormous turnover going through illegal, offline and hawala channels.

A single ODI game by Team India has been estimated to attract wagers to the tune of $200 million (₹1,500 crore). The number of regular participants in the country’s betting scene has been assessed at 14 crore, rising to 40 crore around major sporting tournaments.

The moralistic stance assumed by most desi politicians that makes them shy away from any mention of regulation over gambling and betting has practically turned India into a “Wild West” where huge streams of money flow around unchecked and players are left to take care of themselves and rely on the mercy of the black market.

Many players, especially among the young generations and ‘digital natives’, seek a safer and more reliable gaming environment online where many sites adhere to the strict requirements of their reputable international licences, but unregulated digital space is also home to a number of negligent, scammy, or openly fraudulent operators.

The Case with 1xBet

A particularly alarming case is presented by the 1xBet platform – founded in Russia in 2007 and banned in a number of countries, including Russia itself, for dubious practices.

In 2019, the site was blacklisted by the UK Gambling Commission and its sponsorship contracts with two top English Premier League clubs were terminated after a Sunday Times investigation unearthed that the platform “had been used to promote betting on children’s sports, cockfighting and a ‘pornhub’ casino with topless women dealing the cards”.

According to Norwegian football magazine Josimar, 1xBet has been “declared bankrupt in the Caribbean island of Curacao, where the company has a licence that allows it to offer bets around the world”.

Now, after being kicked out from many jurisdictions, the platform has decided to target India’s unregulated space to gain a new and large market unchallenged by authorities. The whole situation serves as yet another proof that any claims that Indian citizens are being protected from “the dangers of gambling and betting” by bans are absolutely delusional.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *