online poker industry in india
Source - NJ Online

When it comes to non-virtual card games, India has a worth telling history. There are several classic games taken from both Western and Eastern cultures. There are also several native Indian card games that enjoy the popularity of their own in the country.

Let’s travel back in time to 2006 when Teen Patti, the Indian version of poker started to witness interest from several players in India. And in no time it became one of the most popular card games. With the rapid digitization in that decade, a lot of companies wanted to tap into the popularity that poker games had begun to receive.

Indian masses have started to accept poker as a game of skill instead of considering it to be pure gambling. With little hurdles in its way, the card game is expected to grab a considerable share in the Indian online gaming industry.

Market Size in India

India is the largest growing gambling market in the world, according to a report published by MECN (Media Entertainment Consulting Network).  In 2017, the online gaming industry in India was worth about $290 million with more than 120 million players, according to a study by KPMG and Google.

Online poker space in the country is estimated to have a value of around $120 million. According to a report by Economic Times, more than 50,000 people play online poker in India.  It might seem small numbers but it is extremely good for a large profit-making industry.

Major Players

Players like Adda52 have estimated annual revenue of $2.8 million, according to Owler. Adda52 was a debt-free cash generating online poker startup that clocked revenues of INR 47 crores in 2015, as per Delta Corp CFO Hardik Dhebhar. While there are large players like Spartan Poker and Poker Baazi, there are a lot of mid-size and early-stage startups trying to revolutionize the traditional poker rules.

Uma Poker is one of the startups that is providing exciting ring game opportunities for NLH, MIX and PLO poker games as well as small field big guaranteed tournaments to all its users online through their website, android app and windows app.

Major players include PokerStars, Khelo365, Poker High, Hippo52, Poka Bunga and Star Poker among several others. In September last year, Adda52 was acquired by Delta Corp for INR 155 crores in a cash and stock deal.

Legality of Poker in India

India still misses a uniform law for poker gaming and the legality differs from one state to another. Online poker industry in India lies in a grey state as per current norms and standards.

States like West Bengal, Karnataka and Nagaland allow poker playing as the high courts of the states have ruled poker to be a game of skill rather than a game of gambling.

In October 2013, The Indian Poker Association filed a petition before the Karnataka High Court and complained that the police were harassing poker players without any grounds. The court ruled that playing skill games like poker or rummy in recreational hubs is legal and no license is required to do that. The state of West Bengal excludes rummy, bridge and poker from the definition of gambling. However, permission is required from district magistrate to organize public competitions.

On the other hand, playing online poker is strictly prohibited in Assam and Odisha, and one can be prosecuted for doing so. States like Goa allows offline poker to be played in casinos.

Gurajat’s and Telangana’s high courts declared poker to be a game of chance and thus it falls under the gambling category. One cannot withdraw or deposit poker money into his bank accounts if he/she belongs to these states.

The remaining states have ambiguous or no laws and one can play poker subject to a 30.3 per cent TDS on the winnings above INR 10,000. Supreme Court ruled Rummy and Teen Patti to be a game of skill throughout the country. As per the central government, online poker is classified as the legal and central act is applicable in all the states which do not have any particular gambling laws.

Involvement of Corporates & Celebrities

In 2017, Amit Burman, Vice Chairman of Dabur Industries invested around INR 20 crores to set up Poker Sports League (PSL) in which 12 franchises compete against one another. The prize money for PSL in 2018 was INR 4.4 crores and is expected to increase to INR 7.25 crores in the next season. Shilpa Shetty, Raj Kundra and R Madhavan appeared at the launch of Poker Raj at Filmalaya Studio on 23rd October this year. Poker Raj is a poker playing platform launched by Raj Kundra this year.

This clearly displays the interest of businesses and corporate leaders in the poker industry. The state of the online poker market in India does seem promising from business, legal and players’ perspective.

Challenges in the Industry

Changing the perception about poker is the biggest challenge every other poker startup has to deal with. Poker has always been looked like a game of chance in India. A huge population still has prejudices against online poker and considers it to be some sort of gambling. Startups like Uma Poker is trying hard to change the mindset of the people and the way they look at online poker.

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Another major challenge in the industry is competition. Since space is extremely profitable, more and more startups are entering the market. However, a clear vision with a deep understanding of the target audience is the prerequisites to grow in this segment.

The Future

Poker industry is continuously working to create awareness about the high degree of skill required to play online poker. Close to 1 million people are already playing real money pokers online, according to our estimates. In the upcoming years, the online poker industry is set to rise. The government is waking up to the fact that the poker industry can bring in a lot of revenue. The support by authorities of states like Karnataka, West Bengal and Nagaland will definitely have a positive impact on the industry.

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