Online betting ads pop up across social media platforms, MeitY could intervene


*“Create your betting account and get 300% bonus on first deposit. No official documentation needed, create account via WhatsApp.”

*“An insider will give exclusive details about matches; 98% prediction accuracy on toss, session and match.”

*“In 1 minute: Rs 424, in 2 hours: Rs 58684.77. Start playing teen patti.”

These advertisements of online betting and gambling platforms are are prominantly displayed across some of the major social media platforms of the country. This includes the entire range of the Meta family of platforms – Instagram, Facebook and WhatsApp – that are being used by advertisers to not just promote betting sites, but also to onboard users in just a few clicks, an analysis by The Indian Express has found.

The Information and Broadcasting Ministry had earlier issued advisories for streaming platforms and television channels asking them not to show advertisements that promote online betting platforms. However, no such advisory has been issued for social media platforms yet, even as the IT Ministry has indicated that there is concern about the trend and that it could intervene in the issue.

Accounts promoting online betting platforms were found to be occurring fairly frequently on both Instagram and Facebook – on the main home feed and in between stories that users upload, around every second or third advertisement was about an online betting platform. On YouTube, while such ads were not visible on the main home page, they showed up when searches specific to online betting were made.

Instagram and Facebook parent Meta allows all kinds of online betting ads in India after a written request, while Google only allows ads promoting fantasy sports apps and the rummy card game. Despite that, ads promoting sports betting sites could be seen on YouTube.

Online advertisers using Meta’s apps to distribute such ads have a very common modus operandi: Facebook pages, typically recently created, place an advertisement on Instagram, since Meta’s ad policy allows that. These ads, which contain graphics of platforms where users can “predict” scores of sports games and “win big,” also typically contain a link to a WhatsApp account.

If a user clicks on the link, they are taken directly to that WhatsApp chat, which typically uses the platform’s business API, where a message about wanting to “create an ID” is already typed out and the user just has to press send. Once that is done, a series of automated responses is returned containing the specific links that users can start betting on.

A user cannot just create an account on these betting platforms with no official documentation, but even without a phone number or email ID. The automated messages returned by these chats also generate a username and password for the user through which they can create an account, presumably to allow people to create accounts for betting, without leaving behind a personally identifiable digital trail.

One of the ads that this paper followed on Instagram was placed by an entity ‘Filter Gaming’, and eventually led to betting platform FairPlay’s website, which had an option to create an account directly over Whatsapp. Upon selecting the option, the Whatsapp chat already contained a pre-typed text: “Hi, I want FairPlay ID with 300% deposit bonus”. After sending the message, an automated reply was received which described FairPlay as “India’s first licenced and trusted book”. The same message also contained details for the new account on – a computer generated username and password.


How one gets hooked

If a user clicks on the link, they are taken directly to that WhatsApp chat, which typically uses the platform’s business API, where a message about wanting to “create an ID” is already typed out and the user just has to press send. Once that is done, a series of automated responses is returned containing the specific links that users can start betting on.

Another page on Facebook called ‘Prediction King’ placed an ad on Instagram which included a direct link to a Telegram channel called ‘Badshah King of Cricket’. The channel had links to WhatsApp numbers that were onboarding people for a betting site called Hashexch, along with offering users ‘tips’ about ongoing matches. The Telegram group was joined by more than 50,000 people.

Similarly, an account called ‘Sportz League’ placed an ad on Facebook about a betting platform called ‘Yolo 247’ which claimed that users could get a “welcome bonus” of Rs 50,000. A profile called ‘Marco Reid’ placed an ad on Instagram that included a direct link to a website about a betting platform called Gurubhai 11. It said it belonged to the ‘Gurubhai 11 Group’, has a “solid foundation” and is the “leading online game” offering sports betting.

On YouTube, the results for a search ‘best cricket betting apps’ included two advertisements on the top. One of them was called ‘Sky Exchange – Licenced and Trusted’. Upon clicking on the ad, it opened a website called ‘’ where the header image read “India’s no. 1 online cricket platform”. Yet again, the site contained a link to a WhatsApp chat through which users could create their “free IDs” and receive a 5 per cent bonus on their first deposit before they can start betting.

In many cases these betting platforms promoted themselves as “licenced” sites, without specifying any details about the said licence. To be sure, some of these advertised betting sites had obtained a licence from Curacao, a Dutch Caribbean island country, as per their website. Along with Malta and the Virgin Islands, Curacao offers licences to betting companies.

However, not every betting advertiser could clarify about its licence. One platform called Bombay Book, which had placed an ad on Instagram, said on its WhatsApp chat that its parent company “is based out of Dubai” and did not respond when asked about its name. The responses to such messages were sent by human operators in the form of a voice note.

The government is “concerned” by such ads on social media platforms and is expected to take steps to curb them. “I am very concerned that many social media and digital platforms are advertising these obviously illegal online betting sites. We are focusing on taking steps on that,” Minister of State for Electronics and IT Rajeev Chandrasekhar told The Indian Express.

In some cases, the advertisements also banked on names of prominent personalities. A betting advertisement on Instagram which showcased a 10 per cent bonus on a user’s first deposit eventually led to a platform called ‘Adani Book’ after following its link to WhatsApp. The first line of the first automated message that came from the other side read: “Aadani (sic) naam me he trust hai (there is trust in the Aadani name)”. Another platform identified itself as ‘Ambani Book’ and has roped in Bollywood actors to promote its site through Instagram posts.

While in the latter’s case the original ads were posted as a piece of content, the promotional images and videos that the celebrities upload are later picked up by other Instagram accounts, who share that content on their stories with a link to Ambani Book’s website, thus propagating the ad further.

To analyse these ads, this paper relied on three different people’s Instagram, Facebook and YouTube accounts, all of whom are based in Delhi. It is worth noting that as per the national capital’s gambling laws, games of chance including sports betting, is an illegal activity. Yet, these ads were served to users based in Delhi. It is also worth noting that on all these platforms users can pay for betting through UPI. A senior government official said, “in many ways the banks are not doing due diligence on the legality of businesses that seek to transact through them. That was the whole principle of know-your-customer (KYC)”.

In India, Meta allows not just surrogate online betting ads, but also ads that directly promote such platforms. According to its ad policy, to run ads that promote online gambling and gaming, advertisers need to request “written permission” from the company. Google has a clear policy on only allowing ads that promote fantasy sports games. Even then, such ads could be found on it. In India, “Google allows the promotion of Daily Fantasy Sports as long as the advertisement doesn’t promote any other form of online gambling,” its policy states.

Along with a detailed questionnaire, this paper shared screenshots of three online betting ads discovered on Instagram with Meta. The company spokesperson said it “won’t be able to provide a statement without investigating the URLs” of the ads. Google did not respond to a query until publication.

Earlier this month, the Information and Broadcasting Ministry had advised streaming platforms like Hotstar and television channels to “refrain” from showing surrogate ads of online betting sites, in light of the potential financial and socio-economic risk for the consumers. Last month, The Indian Express had reported that betting websites such as 1xBet and FairPlay had placed surrogate advertisements on streaming services during the Asia Cup and the US Open.

While at least an advisory exists for them – which Hotstar did not follow during the final ODI match between India and South Africa on October 11 by showing ads of ‘FairPlay News’ in between overs – the government has not yet issued any such advisory for social media platforms even though the quantum of betting ads on such apps is far higher than streaming platforms. Not to mention the difference in the user base – as of July, Hotstar had close to 60 million users in India and South East Asia, combined. In comparison, Instagram is used by more than 200 million people in India alone, and YouTube by more than 500 million people.

A senior lawyer, who specialises in media law and has previously assisted a number of prominent gaming companies said, “if the government thinks that betting ads on TV or streaming sites is a problem, then these ads on social media companies should definitely be a much larger problem theoretically given the ease with which you can start betting after discovering an ad”.


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