Poker has picked up pace in earning revenues in the Indian market over the past 10 years. From a handful of legal off-shore casinos in Goa and student hostels to professionals catching up over weekends and poker apps on smartphones, lionization of poker has grown exponentially for its entertainment value as well the prospect of earning quick bucks. According to an Economic Times report, the current online poker industry is estimated to be at around $120 million, and it is gradually picking up. Just amidst this scintillating scenario where poker is gaining widespread recognition among the business magnates and also tending towards becoming the backbone of the online gaming society in India, here are 10 factors that have made their way to the limelight for boosting the trade to improve upon the shining hour:
- The virgin, the voluptuous-
Both consumers and organizations hold a dualistic attitude towards product innovativeness. Consumers are known to hold an inherent tendency to approach (neophilia) and avoid (neophobia) new products at the same time. Newer trends have always faced challenges making their way into a conservationist market like India. But it is an undeniable fact that newer trendsetters have always appealed to the ever-curious Indian common mass. Starting from the concepts of affiliate marketing picking up steam to Indian taxi wars being brought a truce by the online cab booking apps, online hotel booking, food delivery services and even grocery shopping from home, the masses have whole-heartedly accepted trends that have made life easier, keeping aside the enticing rise in living standards they have entailed.
Just in keeping with the above-stated market mentality and with the addition of the allurement of the chances of growing fat, Poker has in it the perfect kind of seduction that could mesmerize the colossal mass of the financial middle class wanting to step into the elite one by raking in the dough. Ever since Poker has been introduced to the Indian society by means of students who went to study abroad and picked the game or by the telecast of the World Poker Tour on Indian media in the early 2000s, it has remained very prospective to thrive the economy. All it lacked was an extensive boost from a platform that could provide it a wider outreach.
- Poker appeals to the intellect-
Indians have always been particularly lauding towards the highbrows and to that extent never miss out on a whetstone to sharpen their grey matter. India is a fascinating country and we Indians are normally famous for our outstanding work ethic and intellect. India’s 132.42 crores people have an exclusive zest for life which makes the poker industry seek new challenges and summit new peaks. This is maybe why more and more Indians these days, be it college students, young pros and even most of the normal public are now taking up poker to channelize their creativity & aptitude. Along with the aforementioned, poker also has the USP of providing a chance of making big money. So there is no doubt that poker, and particularly online poker, was tailor-made for the Indian youth population.
- Trade in poker as a profit-making model-
Regular players spend up to eight hours every day playing poker online, often making up to INR 10,000 within 15 minutes. Of course, they do lose money as well, but the initial wins make for a heady rush. It’s becoming increasingly common to hear of online players cashing out anywhere between INR 50,000 to over INR 1 lakh during tournaments. Aditya Agarwal made headlines in July 2015 when he won $96,445 at the World Series of Poker in Las Vegas, considered one of the biggest poker tournaments. There are more than 50,000 people who play on homegrown online poker startups and several of these bootstrapped platforms make profits on annual revenues of at least INR 5 crore. Though it is difficult to estimate the size of India’s online poker industry, reports in 2015 pegged it at about $110-120 million. According to the Chief Financial Officer of Delta Corp, who bought Adda52 for INR 155 crore in a stockhand-cash deal in September 2015, Adda52 was a debt-free and cash-generating online poker startup that clocked revenues of INR 47 crore in the calendar year 2015 with core operational (EBITDA) margin of 30-35%.
There are certain regulatory hurdles that the game has to overcome. But with gradual regulatory acceptance, and post-Delta’s acquisition of Adda52, more investors are eyeing the mostly bootstrapped online poker sector. “With increasing state-level acceptance and most profitable models in the space it’s a sector where investors can expect healthy returns,” said Alok Mittal, a founding board member at Indian Angel Network, who led the seed investment in Adda52. Venture capital and Angel Investor interests look promising in the poker space in India and are projected to soar by leaps and bounds in the very near future.
- Patronization from online platforms-
Due to the largely unregulated nature of its gambling market, India doesn’t have a history of online poker. But the Facebook app Zynga Poker proved to be a masterstroke for the trade with casual card players who discovered a whole new game called Texas Hold’em. This was a natural progression for those who used to play ‘Flash‘ earlier. Plus, the intricacies and depth of Hold’em captured in Teen-Patti players and suddenly poker became the logical sport to choose. Way back in 2006, Teen-Patti, cropped up as an Indian poker variant, not too dissimilar from the British game three-card brag or the US home-game favourite, started to gather interest from players in India. Being one of the most popular card games of all times, it wasn’t long before it captured the strong attention of the Indian masses. With the advent of digitalization, many India-based digital companies also wanted to tap the popularity that poker had begun to enjoy among the masses. Thereby, many Indian gaming companies, in the recent past, began to develop online platforms for playing the card game. Online poker startups such as Adda52, Poker-Baazi and Spartan Poker started gaining fast popularity and generating mammoth turnovers.
But there are certain legal issues that handicap the business. So the nation’s poker scene is simply doing what every other gambling community did when faced with a similar situation: it disregards unclear regulations and simply enjoys the game. India-based players tend to play on the most popular international poker networks. Those include PokerStars, 888poker, and PartyPoker. Poker operators are perfectly aware of the fact that neither the federal government nor state-level authorities are interested in going after individual Indian poker enthusiasts. Consequently, Indian players are free to join the best cash games and tournaments available on the internet. Moreover, as is almost always the case, authorities aren’t interested in going after individual players, especially if they use VPNs to connect to their favourite sites.
- State governments acknowledge poker as a fair trade-
To the persisting regulatory obstacles, playing professionals point out that when universities like Harvard and MIT include poker as a course, one understands that it has been recognized as a skill-based game on a global level and it’s only a matter of time before India acknowledges it too. Co-founder of PokerBaazi, Puneet Singh opines that the state governments too will be convinced in support of the game as the number of startups increases in this space. He’s hopeful to see a slow but gradual lenience in the regulatory issues surrounding the sport, where it’s not being viewed as a gambling sport but a skill-based game.
Although it’s a coarse start, it’s not unconvincing. Karnataka, West Bengal and Nagaland have given a clear verdict, classifying poker as a skill-based game. The Karnataka High Court ruled that playing skill games like poker in recreational clubs is permitted and no license is required for the same. West Bengal excludes card games such as rummy, bridge and poker from the definition of gambling, although permission is required from district magistrates and commissioners for conducting competitions in public. In Goa, poker is permitted in casinos. Nagaland passed a law this year legalizing skill-based online games. With growing support from the jurisdiction, the trade would gain the full-fledged freedom to expand its business territories in the luscious market.
- A good gamble deals in hardcore management-
Professor of strategic management at IIM Kozhikode, Deepak Dhayanithy sets an eye opener for those who dismiss poker as a hobby sport or a gambling game. The avant-garde teaches a class on competition strategy using the game of poker at the management institute. “you learn to read people, their body language, the subtle nonverbal clues, their motivations and how they react to specific circumstances. And lastly, it’s all about managing your resources — the chips,” says Dhayanithy.
In poker, as in business and real life, one is constantly making choices and decisions amidst uncertainty. Cards are unknown to the player as are the opponents’ intentions and moves. Thereby, the game tries a player’s psychological stability and acuminates his decision-making abilities. Such an unconventional outlook towards poker and its practice in academics is sure to sow the seed of trust amongst the academically-based society. Also, as the educated mass takes to the game, one can be very sure it would spread among the average masses too, who look up to the former to standardize their channel of thoughts and perceptions.
- Western tastes of entertainment widely popularizing casinos among Gen Y- Although India has had an epical history of gambling sports, they were never practised in commercial entertainment hubs. With the advent of Westernization in India, recreational centres such as nightclubs, bars, pubs, discotheques have gathered immense publicity and widespread acceptance among the younger generations. Relying on the fact that the average age of Indians would be 25 by the year 2020, it becomes imperative that the tastes of Gen Y would burgeon and an irrefutable inclination towards a zoetic nightlife would give casinos a substantial heap space in the recreational market. An entity peculiar to the west would find solid ground in the subcontinent continuing at the present pace of scaling, and the day is not too far, given the legislature and administration approves of them, which isn’t unlikely either.
- Fan-base turning clientele-
Given that the sport involves monetary stake, it is more than apprehendable that the first ones to indulge in poker would be the business elites and of course the celebrities. Furthermore, celebrities are always coveted as the face of a brand. In a country like India where Bollywood superstars and Cricketers can manoeuvre emotions of the mass, credibility scales are high that once celebrities start endorsing the players in the poker market, it wouldn’t have to fish for clientage. The only thing that stands between are the laws governing the practice of the sport. Once that barrier loses its height, drawing public interests isn’t going to be a tough ask. And given the promising amendments and lenience getting associated with the upmarket trade, we can only imagine it to thrive the Indian market with flying colours.
- Fool’s gold shines no less-
The evergreen lustre in the scopes of making quick money is sure never to wither from the Indian society given its socio-economic conditions that crave for financial upliftment. Once it finds an undefeatable claim to fame through media and advertisements (for the common mass is hardly aware of the returns anyway), iconoclasts will abound. No matter whether the masses are educated of the strategies or not, given the vulnerability persisting in the present day, they would somewhere believe it to be a lucrative gamble. And once first-time investments start yielding, which is inevitable by mathematical probability, this practice would suffuse like a pandemic in the upcoming 10 years.
- Poker enhances skills and hence prove to be a worthy avocation to cultivate- Despite the prevailing negations involved, once the adult generation comes around to believe in the prospects that poker provides, while it continues to be practised in educational institutes as means to exemplify life and career strategies, its non-financial dimensions are sure to open up as well. Once they are inculcated in the good spirit, like those chess and other mind games, breaking down social taboos on poker would be just a matter of a few years. The very moment a second generation starts believing in its positive aspects, there should be no reason why the poker industry will not skyrocket in India in the next 10 years.
Written and edited by-