Online poker in India continues to thrive despite legal hurdles

Number of online poker players in India is increasing by the day

MUMBAI: Poker in India has a perception problem. While some view it as gambling, others consider it a game of skill. Despite this deep divide, poker has witnessed tremendous growth in the country in the last decade. Industry insiders estimate there are close to two million real money poker players in India. They also firmly believe that this number is only expected to grow significantly in the years to come.

Founder and CEO of online poker website Adda52, Anuj Gupta says, “Online poker in India is growing at a rate of 30-40 per cent year-on-year. Fantasy leagues for cricket and football, within a short span has taken over beacuse of the huge fan base. Our online tournaments are also growing at a certain rate because people want to experience it and learn."

Gaussian Network, Adda52’s parent company, was acquired by Jaydev Mody-owned Delta Corp, for a total consideration of Rs 223.9 crore last year.

Gupta believes that India is evolving slowly, primarily because card games carry a negative perception. He believes that engaging with the public at large to change the narrative around poker in India is essential. To conduct good tournaments and people talk about it, is the best way to market the product.

“Because of the negative perception, fewer brands come on board and that too with lots of conditions. The fact is that it is not a mass market product, and is still a very small segment. In a few years atleast we should be able to reach the rummy stage of acceptability and then market it very aggressively to the target segment who would like to play”, Gupta added.

The social and legal problems surrounding poker in India hasn't deterred the world's biggest portal PokerStars from entering the market. Despite all the hurdles, promoters, in and outside India, continue to remain bullish on India. 

Spartan Poker co-founder and MD Amin Rozani believes that the Indian market is ripe and ready for more exposure to sports like poker, and the entry of international players is a testament to that. Spartan poker, he says,  is glad to see the market extending and opening up to poker and is certain that the space has enough and more for all the online players.

Branding and promoting a product like poker in India can be quite tricky. To overcome handicaps related to socials taboos, regulatory authorities and hesitation from advertisers in collaborating, poker companies have devised rather unique marketing methods.

Spartan Poker says it has found the right mix to differentiate itself from others in the industry. On an average it has more than 25,000 active users monthly.

Spartan poker has an annual marketing budget of Rs 20 crore, out of which 65 per cent is spent on digital and the remaining 35 per cent is being used offline like out-of-home (OOH), above the line (ATL), below the line (BTL) and radio.

The company has employed guerrilla marketing tactics such as a radium hoarding campaign at some of Goa's most prominent locations.

"This campaign helps to ensure stickiness in terms of attention of the audience compared to a normal OOH. Our auto rickshaw and tricycle branding campaigns were also carried out in the same vein and got due attention," says Rozani.

Despite the buzz and acitivty in online poker, regulatory hurdles continue to remain unadressed. founder Jay Sayta says, “Poker is facing legal challenges, as of now it is a bit complicated. The game is catching up really fast and at present the online poker industry is about Rs 300-400 crore. Everything comes down to a tough question of whether it is a game of skills or chance.”

As per a recent report by Google-KPMG, the online gaming industry in India is expected to grow to $1 billion by 2021 from the current $360 million, with the online gamers’ community reaching 310 million by then. 

Sayta believes that transforming the mindset of  the general public is a slow process. Chess legend Viswanathan Anand promoting Poker Sports League (PSL) is big a game changer. Interestingly, the PSL was telecast on Discovery's DSports.

It's not hard to understand why online poker companies continue to mushroom by the day. However, the business continues to function under a cloud of instability. To what extent India's poker industry grows from hereon solely depends on the country's government.

Also Read :

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