Illegal offshore betting website signs Esha Gupta as brand ambassador despite guidelines against it

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Offshore betting platform Khelraja has onboarded popular actress Esha Gupta as their brand ambassador. The company cites that the actress will promote their sportsbook and casino segment on digital and offline marketing channels.

Khelraja, a Curacao-based offshore betting company, has been operating illegally in India. Japneet Singh Sethi, Country Manager of Khelraja, has also worked for other offshore betting websites previously.

The offshore website provides different gaming options along with games of chance like slots and sports betting which are considered illegal in India. The parent company for Khelraja, Kings Technology Services, is based in Willemstad, Curacao.

Many of the offshore betting firms are based out of tax havens like Curacao while they operate online and are available in various jurisdictions.

According to new consumer protection guidelines for endorsing products and services, the celebrity that is promoting the product or service in concern is also liable for punishment.

The Consumer Protection Act 2019 (CPA) provides for a statutory liability for these celebrity endorsers. In case any endorser partakes in false, misleading or illegal advertisements, a penalty of Rs 10-50 lakh can be imposed on them. Along with the penalty, the endorser may not be able to appear in any adverts for up to one year and for subsequent violations a ban of up to three years may also be imposed.

The Advertising Standard Council of India (ASCI) released a set of “Guidelines for Celebrity Advertising” in 2017 that declared that advertising starring celebrities shouldn’t be deceptive, misleading, or unsupported and that a celebrity should take reasonable steps to achieve this. However, these guidelines were voluntary in nature and, as mentioned above, the Consumer Protection Act 2019 (CPA) allows for statutory action against these celebrity endorsers. As a result, it is likely that the authorities will take action against Esha Gupta.

Moreover, the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting has issued two advisories to OTT platforms, digital publishers and private satellite television channels, stating them to refrain from publishing ads of online betting platforms. Post it, the ads have stopped on TV and OTT platforms but some sites are using innovative ways and digital channels to advertise.

Celebrity endorsements play a significant role in the online gaming sector as they subtly persuade the target audience to visit the websites sponsored by their favourite celebrity.

A recent survey from IIM Rohtak also concluded that celebrities promoting online gambling are more likely to push a young person towards it.

Meanwhile, the ASCI updated their guidelines specifically for ‘Real Money Gaming’ on 15th December 2020 to provide further safeguards to the users and keep celebrity endorsers in check.