"The non lottery playing segment has been the toughest to convert" : Sanjay Das Pan India Infravest Network CEO

The paper lottery market in India stands at an overwhelming Rs 35,000 to Rs 50,000 crore. The fledgling online lottery business, on the other hand, currently commands merely a fraction of this booming trade.

Playwin, the company from Subhash Chandra's Essel Group, created the online gambling space in India by forming an infrastructure that has terminals connected to a virtual private network, with signals being transmitted to and from the central servers -- and the entire structure processed with the help of satellite broadcasting. Playwin was also a tempting FMCG concept and a great opportunity for a brand building exercise for parent Essel.

Floated in November 2001, Playwin started with the online lottery franchises for the governments of Sikkim, Karnataka and Maharashtra. In April this year, however, the company suspended its agreement with the Maharashtra government, but soon after, pocketed contracts for the Arunachal Pradesh and Mizoram lotteries.

Pan India Infravest Network CEO Sanjay Das spoke to's Aparna Joshi about the Playwin journey thus far and the strategy for the future.


What is the strategy the company will adopt now that at least eight new players are poised to enter the market?

The strength of Playwin is in the depth of its penetration. We need to talk to more people to keep the excitement going. We will be launching more games, more variety in the next one to two months to keep the players engrossed. However, converting the non players has been our most daunting task.

Playwin netted Rs 660 crore last fiscal and hopes to double the figure this year. The projected revenues for this year are between Rs 1,000 and Rs 1,200 crore.

Media campaigns earlier this year tried to concentrate on the executive and the upper crust, in an effort to get the segment to play? Has the gambit paid off?

Our target remains the entire population. We did try to focus on SEC A and B, but these have not responded favourably. For our bread and butter, we have to rely on SECs C, D and E. The target audience is the existing paper lottery players. The untapped segment of non lottery players offers tempting potential but is a tough nut to crack. Paper lottery has its critics in the form of lack of transparency but the distribution and reach of paper lottery makes it a formidable rival.

How have the new entrants, Dhan Dhana Dhan and Fortune, affected Playwin?

Our strategy is now on how to tackle the competition, many of which have resorted to placing their terminals very close to or even on the premises of Playwin outlets. We have an exclusivity contract with our retailers which helps us to stem this problem, but the rivals have also gone in for better margins for distributors to lure them away. But we believe that if the basic product is good and the games offer enough attraction, we are bound to win in the final reckoning. The main thing is to open new terminals almost every day.

But the company was not able to meet the target in the setting up of new terminals in the last fiscal.

True. While we targeted 8,000 terminals last year, we were able to put up 4,000. Part of the problem was our termination of contract with Maharashtra, although that did not seriously affect our budgets. This year, we intend to be more focused on setting up new terminals, at the rate of 150 to 200 per month. By the end of this fiscal, we hope to add four to five thousand terminals across the country.

"Each new campaign, centering on a new acquisition typically has an ad budget of Rs two to 2.5 crore"

What went wrong with Maharashtra?

We had operational difficulties. There were certain terms and conditions which we interpreted differently from what the government did, creating problems on the ground for us which did not allow us to fulfil the agreement. Maharashtra was indeed a valuable property for us, particularly as we are headquartered here. Right now, our lawyers are negotiating, and if anything favourable does result, it could still take some months to be sorted out.

How much does the company spend on marketing and promotions for each franchise? How are the collections the company makes split?

About 50 to 60 per cent of the collections go to the prize money, 10 to 20 per cent are the respective state government's share while the rest is allocated to trade margins and other expenditure.

Awareness building exercises entail a huge expense budget -- ads are regularly placed in 68 publications in 10 languages in the 13 states where lottery is played. The first stress was to build the Playwin brand, the focus is now on building the individual brands. Max Lotto was launched on 2 August this year. Each new campaign, centering on a new acquisition typically has an ad budget of Rs two to 2.5 crore.

Is Playwin trying to give any value additions to the consumer, now that new players are offering the same product?

Our main offering is clean and transparent games. Others who have entered the fray now are merely trying to copy the formula set down by us. Thus far, we have created 1,500 lakhpatis, 34 crorepatis and an overall crore of winners in the 16 months that we have been around. Isn't that a lot of value?

Besides, in states like Karnataka and Sikkim, the midday meal schemes of the government and projects for building rural schools and hospitals are the value addition that we have helped create.

Which states is Playwin eyeing now?

We have just bagged the Mizoram account, which will be launched in the first week of September. There will be a daily as well as a weekly draw. We are now looking at Rajasthan, Kerala and Haryana as well. We had also responded to the tenders floated by Bhutan for its lottery, but no decision has been taken on that front.

How do you see the online lottery market changing in the coming months?

There will be a shakeout, definitely. In absolute value, we are still higher than any other. By the time the market stablises, there will be two to three players left. Those who deliver value will be the ones who will continue to be in the market. The me-toos will have to bow out.

There have been complaints that consumers who have won prizes of a higher denomination have not received their dues on time….

The average time taken for payment is 70 to 80 days. For prize money over Rs 5,000, the amount needs the sanction of the state government concerned, which is why there is a certain delay at times. But so far, we have been able to settle all the claims within a maximum of 90 days. Sometimes, though there have been problems when prize money won in the Mega Win Maha Lotto (Maharashtra) is still pending with the government.

Is Playwin trying to reach the non-metros is a bigger way in the coming days?

The approximate proportion of terminals in metros and non-metros is 50:50. While the playing population for paper lottery could be humungous in the non-metros, for online lottery, the metro is still the base. Then there are states like Karnataka which are more tech savvy and hence more open to online lottery. On the other hand, there are states like Maharashtra and West Bengal which are more paper lottery oriented.

Is there a trend of paper lottery consumers moving to online?

There is, but only slight. It is difficult to emulate the massive distribution that paper lottery commands. Abroad it may be a different scenario, but paper lottery in Indian will always keep a 60 to 70 per cent share of the entire lottery business.

What was the rationale behind the change of nomenclature at the company?

Playwin has slowly become the brand name for our lottery. While lottery will remain the mainstay of the business, we are now aiming to expand as an infrastructure company. It could mean providing various services, including bill payments -- electricity, gas etc. It could even offer a service competing with ATMs. That was the rationale of converting Playwin Infravest into Pan India Infravest Network Ltd, which will be the parent company. Right now, we are conducting the technical feasibility on the kind of services we would be able to offer in the future.

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