Among those advertising aggressively during the ongoing Indian Premier League is Betway, which also features prominently on platforms like news aggregator DailyHunt, short video platform Josh and social question-and-answer website Quora. Others that continue to promote their offerings include Lotus365 and Fun88.
“It’s impossible for the government to monitor everything,” says technology and gaming lawyer Jay Sayta, while pointing out that the government has issued three advisories asking print, electronic and digital media not to feature advertisements by the banned apps.
Platforms that advertise banned apps could suffer severe penalties under the IT Rules including “loss of intermediary status and potential blocking of websites, criminal prosecution under state gaming laws and action under the Consumer Protection Act,” he added.
Emails sent to DailyHunt and Josh’s parent company — VerSe Innovation, Quora, Instagram, Betway, Lotus365 and Fun88 remain unanswered.
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Betway, which calls itself “an online gambling company, offering first-class sports betting and casino entertainment,” has been vocal with its advertisements in the current IPL season.
These advertisements exhort users to — “Make some noise in the T20 blast! Predict in play. Predict Rs 500 and get Rs 250 free bonus.”
“More than a score. Action. Stats. Data,” are among those featured on DailyHunt, Josh and Quora.
DailyHunt and Quora, as well as social media apps like Instagram and Josh, have prominently put out advertisements with cricketers, television and film personalities as well as influencers to lure viewers to make a quick buck by betting on sports like cricket, football, tennis as well as horse racing, greyhound racing, card games, casino and slot games.
Josh has an entire segment dubbed ‘Betway scores’ where a user can access live matches as well as find details on upcoming matches and results. Users can go through the points table, familiarise themselves with IPL teams and statistics.
Lotus 365 has a significant presence on Instagram with 155,000 followers and 705 posts with extensive advertising claiming to be ‘India’s first licensed and legal company.’
Others like Fun88 are placing their advertisements on community management app MyGate which is widely used in large housing societies, apartment complexes and gated communities.
Earlier this month, the Centre had asked state governments to crack down on outdoor advertisements of gambling and betting platforms. “We routinely send notices to companies as and when things are brought to our notice, but the problem is that not many people complain for us to take action,” a source from the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (MIB) said.
The MIB had also issued advisories to private TV channels, digital news publishers and OTT platforms to refrain from publishing and broadcasting advertisements of such platforms.
Betway, for example, consistently posts about IPL matches and puts out promotional videos of cricketer Kevin Pietersen giving his predictions via their Twitter handle.
Sayta said the general modus operandi of how these website domains operate is that once they are blocked, they immediately start mirror websites. For example, if betway.com is banned, they start bdbetway.com, a new domain within 24 hours which is how they are able to operate even after the ban, he explained.
Additionally, the company’s Twitter handle has a link where a user can download the Betway app. On downloading the Android app, it warns: “By downloading, you acknowledge this app is from outside the Google Play Store.” Similarly, Lotus365 cannot be downloaded on the Play Store and explicitly states that in its advertising. However, it urges users to download the app for a ‘better experience’. Users can also sign up through WhatsApp.
While the Betway app is unavailable on the Play Store, the Betway Scores app is. Upon downloading the Betway Scores app, users are told that they can win Rs 1 lakh by entering details like first name, last name, and phone number to take part in the draw. Closer reading of the fine print reveals that when users enter these personal details for the draw, they are told that they are agreeing to receive contact and marketing by phone or SMS from Betway scores and “its partner Betway.”
Industry sources said that platforms like Instagram also rely on users to report such accounts in order to take action. Often companies advertise their logo and sign-up information on videos that are organic content rather than monetised content, “so it gets tough for the intermediaries to track these videos down and catch the wrongdoers,” they added.