Indian Celebrities In Firing Line Over Illegal Gambling Ads

March 21, 2024
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Indian celebrities who promote illegal online sports betting may now find themselves in legal peril, with the national anti-money laundering enforcer reportedly probing at least 40 Bollywood names.
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Indian celebrities who promote illegal online sports betting may now find themselves in legal peril, with the national anti-money laundering enforcer reportedly probing at least 40 Bollywood names.

The Enforcement Directorate (ED) is expanding its investigations of foreign and locally based online gambling operators to include promotional work by prominent Indian film personalities and a rap artist, the Free Press Journal reported on Sunday (March 17).

The ED is set to question several of at least 40 celebrities associated with the FairPlay app, a subsidiary of the notorious Indian betting app Mahadev Book, the report said, citing unnamed sources.

The development marks a potential crossroads for India’s vast underground online gambling industry, which has relied on such endorsements for years with seeming impunity for the celebrities involved.

Celebrity endorsements for the Mahadev Book app and many other online gambling services have flourished online in banner advertising and videos, and on prominent street-side billboards across the country.

This has been despite calls from governments and anti-gambling forces to stifle the practice.

The report said the ED will summon veteran actor Sanjay Dutt, award-winning actress Tamanna Bhatia, Sri Lankan actress Jacqueline Fernandez and award-winning rapper Aditya Prateek Singh Sisodia, known as Badshah, for questioning.

Statements from some of these reported suspects had already been collected by Maharashtra state’s cybercrime investigation unit and shared with the ED, it said.

The Maharashtra probe found that the four celebrities had received money from gaming companies and possible front companies in Singapore, Dubai or Melbourne.

The Free Press Journal report said that at least 40 Bollywood celebrities are implicated in FairPlay promotions connected to Indian Premier League (IPL) cricket matches throughout the 2023 season.

Central government agencies have ramped up investigations into illegal online sports betting and casino websites for some time, with the ED joined last year by tax authorities and state government prosecutors to wage ongoing campaigns.

But it took until earlier this month for undisrupted celebrity endorsements to face greater scrutiny.

The Central Consumer Protection Authority on March 6 issued a new advisory to government organs and media outlets that warned “celebrities and influencers … to refrain from endorsing and promoting illegal betting and gambling activities” or face prosecution.

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