Online card games estimated to grow 50-100% y-o-y in terms of revenue; online gaming industry to touch Rs 11,880 crore by 2023 in the country.
India may not have a 24-hour casino culture like Las Vegas or Macau, but in recent times, online gaming, particularly card games, has seen traction in the country. The online gaming industry in India is estimated to be Rs 4,380 crore (FY18), projected to grow at a CAGR of 22.1% to touch Rs 11,880 crore by FY2023, as per KPMG. Within this, online card games are growing at 50-100% year-on-year.
Among popular card games are Teen Patti and Rummy; however, when it comes to real money, Poker garners the cash flow. The Supreme Court had ruled Rummy and Teen Patti as a game of skill, but opinion on Poker is mixed throughout the country. “Playing poker online is illegal in Assam and Odisha. Furthermore, you cannot withdraw or deposit winning money in a bank account located in Gujarat or Telangana,” says Jay Sayta, corporate lawyer and founder of Glaws, an independent firm monitoring the online gaming space in India. “Outside of these two states, if your withdrawal is above Rs 10,000, a 30% TDS is charged and it is legal money. But if you are playing on international platforms, you violate FEMA guidelines and you could be penalised.”
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Poker being perceived as a ‘gamble’ is an impediment to raising awareness about online gaming, believes Mohit Agarwal, co-founder Adda52 — a popular poker platform that got acquired in 2017. “Big TV channels or other major platforms still resist putting Poker ads,” he says. “But things have improved. If earlier we had 10 channels ready to put a Poker ad, now there are 50.” According to him, about 1 lakh players actively play real money Poker in India, primarily SEC A users in the 25-40 year age group.
The online Poker space in India, estimated to be around Rs 700 crore currently, is getting competitive and among new launches is the entry of Pokerstars, considered to be one of the world’s largest poker platforms. Headquartered in Isle of Man, Pokerstars reported $877.3 million in terms of revenue in the previous fiscal. The entry of international players isn’t bothering local platforms yet. Amin Rozani, CEO and founder, Spartan Poker, says, “We have our own expertise and know the local market very well. The more the platforms that enter the market, the better it is for the sport.”
Apart from Poker start-ups, some corporations also have a stake in the game. FMCG giant Dabur’s vice-chairman Amit Burman invested close to Rs 20 crore to develop the first ever Poker league in India. “I believe Poker is a sport, not gambling. This is the reason for forming a team and developing a tournament where franchises play against each other. That is how Poker Sports League (PSL) started two years back,”
As many as 11 franchises took part in the second season of PSL which ended in June. Prize money worth Rs 4.4 crore was distributed among the winners. “We had Viswanathan Anand as our brand ambassador, who went on camera and said Poker is a game of skill and not chance. Next season we will up the prize money to Rs 7.25 crore,” Burman adds. He is upbeat about the future of the sport in India, “Globally we see many professional players who play Poker full time. In India, as we host more tournaments and parents realise that there is a career in Poker, the game will grow,” Burman concludes.
In India, gambling laws are determined by the respective states. High courts in West Bengal, Nagaland and Karnataka judged poker as a game of skill, allowing it to be played in those states. At the same time, in Gujarat and Telangana the courts judged it as a game of chance.