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Wednesday, March 22, 2023

Govt plans norms for TV advertising by online gaming companies

While gaming is a regulated business, games of skill are allowed under the law of the land although “games of chance” are regarded as gambling by definition. While some states in India have permitted games such as rummy and poker, regarding it games of skill, a few others, including Telangana, Odisha, Assam, Sikkim, and Andhra Pradesh have banned some of these games.

The Union Government plans to lay down norms and regulate advertising by online gaming companies on TV channels. During a video meeting with gaming, TV, and advertising associations earlier this week, the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting had clarified that such rules were necessary to regulate the industry. The ministries of I&B and Consumer Affairs will work together with the Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) to notify the guidelines.

The consultative meeting was first of its kind convened by the I&B Ministry. The All India Gaming Federation (AIGF), the Federation of India Fantasy Sports (FIFS), The Online Rummy Federation (TORF), News Broadcasters’ Association (NBA), and the ASCI attended the meeting, media has reported. “Regulations are always welcome. In a sunrise sector, they bring stability and clarity. MPL will comply fully and proactively with any regulation,” said Dibyojyoti Mainak, Vice-President for Policy and Legal at Mobile Premier League, a e-sport and mobile gaming platform, in his comments to the media.

Gaming companies designing games described as “skill-based” have protection under Article 19(1) (g) and can therefore advertise their offerings under the relevant provisions of the law. Currently, the environment is self-governed, with industry associations urging members to follow self-regulatory codes on advertising that are mandated to make the user experience “safe and fair”, prohibit advertising specifically targeted at minors, and forbid misleading claims.

As a matter of fact, ASCI does not at the moment have specific rules for the gaming industry. “We just wanted to have a chat with the stakeholders to see what can be done. If there needs to be a specific time slot, or should these ads have a specific category… There are already injunctions on court orders calling this a game of skill alone, so we don’t want more complaints that see this as gambling,” a government official was quoted as saying by media.

There have been deepening concerns about the growing number of online gaming ads that were leading to “unnatural internet behaviour”, particularly among the young. According to reports, ASCI has apparently informed the I&B Ministry that it did not have the mandate, competence or authority to decide whether such activity be viewed as “gambling” and have it banned under law.

A note issued by the I&B Ministry says such advertisements can be viewed or examined under “some sections of the Cable Television Network Act”, which prohibit ads that could mislead the public into believing that a particular product has “miraculous or supernatural qualities”. The ministry also cited the Consumer Protection Act, 2019 that prohibits “false or misleading ads”.

In a recent presentation made to government officials, FIFS, a self-regulatory body for fantasy sport, submitted that online gaming was about “research, transparency and no addiction, as most of the players were interested in sports, belonged to the mature age group and faced losses less than Rs. 10,000 in a lifetime in these games”.

“From 10 operators in 2016 to over 150 operators, the industry continues to grow. In 2020, it had gross revenues of Rs 2,400+ crore for FY20 which is an increase of three times from last year, and it is projected to create over 10,000 job opportunities by next year. The industry attracted FDI of Rs 3,500 crore ($500 million) and has the potential to attract FDI of over Rs 10,000 crore over the next few years,” FIFS said in their presentation.


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