Celebrities and big Instagram accounts join hands to promote illegal gambling websites

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Instagram, as of January 2022, was the fourth most popular social media platform in the world in terms of user numbers. YouTube and WhatsApp ranked second and third, respectively, whilst Facebook remained the most popular, with almost three billion monthly active users worldwide, according to analytics firm Statistica. India had the most significant number of Instagram users as of January 2022, with over 230 million users in the country.

What sets Instagram apart is that roughly 31 per cent of global Instagram audiences were aged between 25 and 34 years. Now, this very uniqueness is used by illegal betting websites to promote their shady business.

These offshore betting websites create a video of famous Bollywood celebrities promoting and encouraging users to gamble online. Once the video is recorded, the video is shared as stories on multiple Instagram accounts having millions of followers. The promotions are primarily targeted at youth between the age groups 18-38 years.

Some of the accounts that recently promoted illegal gambling websites include @bcbilliofficial with 1.8 million followers, @daily_over_dose with 1.8 million followers, @adultgram with 5.4 million followers.

At the time of writing this, a story on @adultgram features model Urfi Javed where she is seen promoting a shady betting and casino website Ambani Book. The actress also says “Ambani naam maihe guarantee haai,” thereby linking the shady website to the illustrious Ambani family.

In the latest advisory released last month, against ads promoting online betting websites/platforms in print, electronic and digital media, the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting asked the media platforms to refrain from promoting gambling websites. However, Instagram accounts, although have millions of followers do not come under the ambit of the said circular as they are not in the business of news media.

In June, the Consumer Affairs ministry issued guidelines under Consumer Protection Act that prohibited surrogate advertising which is normally adopted by offshore betting websites. The guidelines and regulations issued under the Consumer Protection Act are applicable to celebrities like Bipasha Basu, Urfi Javed, and Aparshakti Khurana who promote illegal websites.

It remains to be seen if action is taken against these celebrities for advertising illegal offshore betting websites and encouraging or abetting money laundering and tax evasion by illegal and unlicensed online betting platforms. As regards Instagram accounts, most of these accounts are anonymous accounts with admins not revealing their identities.