During key moments in the Asian Cup tournament which ended on Sunday, the image of Yuvraj Singh – dressed in white, clenching his fists, smiling broadly and holding a bat – flashed across the screens.
The former Indian cricketer was, on paper, promoting a “professional sports blog”, 1xBet. In reality, however, 1xBet is a controversial offshore betting website.
The online bookmaker, banned in several countries including Russia, where it was founded, was blacklisted in 2019 by the UK Gambling Commission following a Sunday Times investigation which found that the “1xBet brand had been used to promote betting on children’s sports, cockfighting and a ‘pornhub’ casino with bare-breasted women dealing the cards.” The blacklist had also led to top football clubs competing at English Premier League clubs to end their sponsorship deals.
Additionally, in June this year, Norwegian football magazine Josimar reported that 1xBet, one of football’s biggest sponsors, had been “declared bankrupt on the Caribbean island of Curacao, where the company has a license that allows it to offer betting worldwide”. .
Today, the same platform is trying to establish itself in India. Operating under the banner of a “professional sports blog” to circumvent the rules, he launched a marketing blitz that Indian regulators say could be in “potential violation” of the country’s laws.
And it’s not just 1xBet. Another betting site, FairPlay, also went into publicity overdrive during the Asian Cup and the US Open, with the aim of attracting new customers.
Since gambling and betting are illegal in India, these platforms have created sports news websites, which offer match predictions and tips, to help them with surrogate advertising. Yuvraj is one of 1xBet’s sports blog ambassadors, while actor Ranbir Kapoor and boxer Mary Kom, among others, endorse FairPlay’s news portal.
The government’s draft guidelines on misleading advertisements under the Consumer Protection Act prohibit businesses from engaging in surrogate advertising. “Advertisements for goods or services the advertising of which is otherwise prohibited or restricted by law must not circumvent these restrictions by purporting to be advertisements for other goods or services, the advertising of which is not prohibited or restricted by law,” states the draft guidelines published in August 2020.
In June this year, the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting issued a notice to print, electronic and digital media to refrain from advertising online betting platforms.
“The online betting advertisements are misleading and do not appear to be in strict compliance with the Consumer Protection Act 2019, the Advertising Code under the Cable Television Networks Regulation Act 1995 and advertising standards under the standards of journalistic conduct established by the Press Council of India under the Press Council Act, 1978,” the ministry had said in a statement.
Manisha Kapoor, CEO and Secretary General of the Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) told The Indian Express that this is a matter that “the judiciary and the states need to consider”.
“The advertisements mentioned are in potential violation of Indian Government law rather than the ASCI code. This is a matter which the judiciary and the States must consider in the interest of consumer protection and which goes beyond the jurisdiction of ASCI,” Kapoor said. “That said, we support the government at all times in monitoring these advertisements when requested.
Yet the problem continues to go unchecked. Over the past few years, particularly during and after the pandemic, betting companies – through direct or surrogate means – have openly and increasingly advertised on major streaming services, including Hotstar and SonyLIV, when live sporting events, including cricket matches.
When contacted, Hotstar, SonyLIV, Board of Control for Cricket in India, Yuvraj Singh and 1xBet did not respond. FairPlay could not be reached for comment.
To place bets on these offshore websites, users must first create an account by sharing their personal details. In the case of 1xBet, the text message for the one-time password required to register is delivered in Russian. Once logged in, users can place bets on domestic and international matches in sports ranging from cricket, kabaddi, volleyball, football, table tennis, basketball, and tennis among others.
The website offers several payment options for users based outside India, including e-wallets, cryptocurrencies, bank transfers, and bank cards. Curiously, during UPI transfers, instead of making the payment directly to 1xBet, the registered ID belongs to an individual and it changes regularly. Users are given a unique referral code to validate transactions and money is deposited into the betting account through a third party within an hour, rather than instantly.
Moreover, these websites – registered in tax havens like Curacao and Cyprus – place the responsibility on the user to determine the legality of online betting. “When opening an account and/or using our website, you must ensure that your actions are legal in the territory in which you reside. You also warrant and agree that you have received advice before registering on our website,” said the terms and conditions published on 1xBet, adding that it is illegal in countries like “the United States, the United Kingdom, Cyprus, the Netherlands, etc. .”
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All of these countries have banned 1xBet, founded in Russia in 2007, for violating their betting and gambling laws. According to Spanish daily AS, the company has also been fined in countries including Kenya, Poland, Israel and the Netherlands.
The company, however, continues to sponsor two of football’s biggest clubs – Barcelona and Paris Saint-Germain. However, it is not legally accessible in Spain and France.
In India, 1xBet and FairPlay are the latest in a series of betting companies flooding the illegal market. Besides advertising on TV and streaming sites, several offshore websites such as Dafabet and Parimatch have sponsorship deals, through surrogate means, with teams that play in the domestic leagues in sports like cricket, football and kabaddi.