Indian print, online and social media have been advised to refrain from advertising gambling and betting websites. The Union Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (MIB) issued the advisory earlier in June on the background of numerous instances of such advertisements appearing in the paper and digital media.
Industry experts interpret the advisory to be directed against promoting online Andar Bahar games and other chance-based titles, but not against advertising skill-based gaming genres including eSports, online fantasy sports, and a number of hypercasual and card games.
“The big spenders are still skill-based companies when it comes to different mediums. And while it might impact the whole psyche of advertisers considering this advisory is for betting and gambling companies, it will not impact skill-based games,” an undisclosed industry source stated.
Thus, experts from the sector do not expect the advisory to significantly impact broadcasters and publishers, as the bulk of current advertisements is promoting games of skill anyway.
“As agencies, we are already careful about betting platforms. The clients that we deal with have converted into skill-based games themselves. The government’s measure is directed towards anyone making an attempt to promote online gambling and betting and not skill-based games,” explained Shashi Sinha, CEO of IPG Mediabrands.
India’s distinction between ‘games of mere skill’ and ‘games of mere chance’ is notorious for being unclear, ambiguous, and the reason for a number of litigations in the country’s High Courts and in the Supreme Court. While a roulette game online could more or less safely be put in the chance category, and a game of chess can with little doubt be described as skill-based, there is still no universal test or rule that can determine unambiguously for any game on what side of the boundary it stands.
“We have been consistent to bring to the notice of the MIB the menace of offshore gambling companies such as 1XBet, Fairplay fantasy, among others, advertising. Just to clarify that most of the gaming companies in India have fought and won in court that fantasy games and pay-to-play games (real money gaming) are skill-based games. Hence, they don’t fall under the advisory,” said Roland Landers, CEO of the All India Gaming Federation (AIGF).
According to Landers, the advisory will help clear the differentiation between skill gaming on the one side and betting and gambling on the other. Yet, any gambling or betting platform that wants to advertise in India, may still do so by focusing its promotion efforts on its library of skill games.
However, while there is still no authority mandated to individually categorize games along the skill vs chance axis, this legal ambiguity will keep creating confusion in India. For example, one and the same game of poker has been held to be a game of skill by the High Courts of Karnataka and Kolkata, but the High Court of Gujarat has ruled that it is a game of chance. Thus, an advertisement of a poker platform on media with a national reach will comply with the MIB advisory in some parts of India simultaneously with violating it in others.
Strict rules and restrictions concerning marketing and advertising by gambling and betting companies are a natural part of any contemporary gaming legislation over the world. In this sense, the issuing of the MIB advisory on the subject is one of several welcomed steps that India has made recently towards achieving a healthy regulation over gaming. Still, there is a long way to go before ensuring a safe and sustainable gaming environment in the country both for operators and users.
According to industry experts, a comprehensive online gaming regulation should cover a number of other areas besides stringent marketing guidelines and limitations. These include mandatory responsible gaming mechanisms and processes, prevention of gambling by minors, and guaranteed fairness and protection of the rights of users.
Regulations should also take care to ensure that gaming operators are socially responsible businesses, as well as that they pay taxes in India and are subject to effective anti-money laundering scrutiny.
India is still far from achieving these objectives, but recent steps like the creation of an inter-ministerial panel by the Central Government to study the best gaming regulation practices in the world, the introduction of a draft Online Gaming (Regulation) Bill in parliament, and the gambling advertising advisory by MIB are all steps in the right direction.