The chickens are coming home to roost for the online betting network in India with the Mahadev app case unravelling to reveal new aspects every few days. A host of celebrity actors like Ranbir Kapoor, Shraddha Kapoor, Huma Qureshi, Hina Khan and comedian Kapil Sharma have been summoned by the Enforcement Directorate that has been digging into the case. They have not been named as accused but as well-known icons who promoted the app or services offered by it, ostensibly for a quid pro quo. The ED would like to know from them about the app and its shady operations since at least 2017, a large part of it from the UAE. The gaming app is said to be an umbrella syndicate linked to a number of online platforms which are betting websites enrolling new users and capturing user IDs to allegedly launder money through benami bank accounts.
The online gaming rules prohibit betting in India but apps and websites have found conduits such as this app. Betting is an addiction like tobacco, alcohol and substances; stories abound of how small earners have been enticed by easy and attractive offers of underhand loans to indulge in betting, and have ended up losing their homes or jobs given that their smartphones have compromised information about the organisations they are employed in. To recognise betting as an addiction and then hope to weed it out by law is self-defeating. The central government ought to have made it difficult, impossible, for such online platforms to operate in India. The ED seized illegal assets worth Rs 417 crore in raids it conducted across 39-40 locations all over India in relation to this case. The founders of this app are believed to have started a handful of other gaming apps too.
The case did not quite grab public attention till celebrities were summoned for questioning, which has raised anew the difficult questions about celebrity endorsement of goods and services. Are they to be held responsible or not for promoting what is not quite kosher? The last word on this case is yet to be spoken but it suffices to say that celebrity endorsement is as much an issue here as the financial transgressions. The sooner the ED and other agencies get to the bottom of it all and the government takes action against such apps, the better.