The Advertising Standard Council of India (“ASCI”) via press release dated November 24, 2020 has issued Guidelines for Online Gaming for Real Money Winnings (“Guidelines”) which have become effective from December 15,2020 onwards. Pursuant to this, the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (“MIB”) had issued an advisory (“Advisory”), dated December 4, 2020, to all private satellite TV channels for advertisements on online gaming, fantasy sports etc. These guidelines have been framed to inform the advertisers of the criteria which shall be used for scrutinizing advertisements against which complaints are received. The purpose of these guidelines is to ensure that the users become aware of the financial and other risks which are associated with online gaming for real money.
The guidelines come as a response to a number of concerns which have been expressed regarding advertisements of online gaming. Online games in which the consumers are required to put up money for possibility of cash or equivalent winning are called online gaming for real money winnings. Such games have been becoming increasingly popular these days and amidst the recent lockdown and IPL (Indian Premier League), they have drawn a lot of players. ASCI is of the opinion that such games entail an element of risk of financial losses, are addictive in nature and thus need standardized guidelines. Further, it has also been realized by ASCI that there is a real possibility of losing of money by the players and it is important to ensure that such financial risks are not suppressed or hidden in advertisements and are displayed by having disclaimers in a standardized form.
ASCI has the power to review the complaints regarding the advertising content of online gaming for real money winnings. It is a voluntary self-regulation organization which has been established for protection of interest of consumers and ensuring that the advertisements are legal and truthful. Members of ASCI are bound by its rulings and while they are not strictly enforceable, the member remain contractually bound to them.
2. Key Highlights of the Guidelines
- Prohibition on depiction of minors- The guidelines state that gaming advertisements shall not depict any person under the age of 18 to be engaged in playing a game of online gaming for real money winnings.
- Mandatory Disclaimers- every gaming advertisement has been mandated to display the following disclaimer-
“This game involves an element of financial risk and may be addictive. Please play responsibly and at your own risk”
- The disclosure made will have to conform to the following-
For advertisement in print/static form- The disclosure shall occupy no less than 20% of the space in advertisement, it shall be in the same language and font, shall not be in italics, be in the same direction as the majority of the text.
For Advertisement in Audio/video form- The disclaimer to be put in normal speaking pace at the end of advertisement, must be of the same language as the advertisement. In case of audio-visual mediums, the disclaimer need to be in both audio and visual formats.
- Prohibition on portrayal as income opportunity- The guidelines state that the advertisements should not present online gaming for real money winnings as an income opportunity or an alternative employment option.
- Prohibition on portrayal of comparison of success- The advertisements have been prohibited to suggest that a person engaged in gaming activity is more successful as compared to others.
3. Regulations for advertisements and online gaming
The Government of India as well as the ASCI regulate the advertisements in India. ASCI is a voluntary self-regulatory council which was established in year 1985 with the objective of ensuring- truthfulness and honesty of claims and representations made by advertisements, not being offensive to generally accepted standard of public decency, observing fairness in competition etc. For regulation of advertisements in India, ASCI has adopted the Code for Self-Regulation in Advertising (“Code”). This code applies to anyone involved in commissioning, creation, placement or publishing of advertisements.
Gaming is regulated in India by Central as well as State specific legislations. Gambling has been prohibited in all state specific legislations. For games which may deal with online gambling, intermediaries such as search engines network service providers, telecom operators etc. have been prohibited from hosting or transmitting any content which encourages gambling under the Information Technology (Intermediaries Guidelines) Rules, 2011. It must be noted that online fantasy games have been classified as games of skill in several jurisdictions and thus a number of states allow such games. However, states such as Assam, Orissa, Telengana, Sikkim, Tamil Nadu etc. either do not provide any exception for game of skill or have passed ordinances to not permit such gaming. In light of this, it is essential that the advertisements along with online games for money shall be prohibited in states which prohibit such gaming. This is due to the fact that the advisory issued by MIB requires all broadcasters to ensure that the advertisements do not promote any activity which is prohibited by any law.
NITI Ayog has also released a draft report titled ‘Guiding Principles for the Uniform National-Level Regulation of Online Fantasy Sports Platforms in India’ wherein it has pitched for the idea of setting a self-regulatory organisation for online fantasy sports. Such self-regulatory body has been proposed to be a single-purpose fantasy sports industry body which have membership of online fantasy sports platforms operators.
The current guidelines are a welcome move by ASCI as they will not only benefit the viewers of the advertisements but will also ensure that legitimate players get clearly distinguished. These guidelines were long overdue and essential for public welfare. They may not have a significant impact on the operations of the gaming industry. It must be noted that the ASCIs guidelines are self-regulatory in nature, the MIB by issuing an advisory on the same is in the nature of directions and the broadcasters will have to ensure compliance to the same.
The Online Gaming for Real Money industry is booming with huge investments flowing in and having guidelines in respect of responsible advertising is a step in positive direction as it provides clear guiding principles for advertising and the industry will no longer have to operate in dark. It is expected that while the government will take a decision on the legality surrounding the online gaming sector, the guidelines will make the online gaming more transparent and safer and will bring in responsible and truthful advertising in this sector while ensuring safe and fair environment for consumers.
The guidelines can be accessed here and the advisory issued by MIB can be accessed here.