How often do you hear someone say they play poker? Or how often do you see or hear about poker in 2022? Now compare that to your awareness about the game, say like five years ago. There is a vast difference that one simply cannot overlook. From nowhere to somewhere, this game of skill is slowly and gradually gaining solid ground in India.
The poker landscape in India has scaled incredible heights over the past few years. And the game hasn’t realized its full potential yet. But that being said, Indians are still finding it difficult to accept this sport as one backed by sheer skill and not luck. The legal judgments that poker finds itself embroiled in continues to scrutinize the game along with the people associated with it.
So let’s try to understand where poker in India is exactly heading. While the growth is quite significant, the criticism won’t stop. So will it go uphill, downhill or is it going to be a flat plateau?
Firstly, let’s have a look at what numbers and statistics have to say. KPMG report suggests that the Indian online gaming industry is projected to grow at a CAGR of 22% to reach ₹11,880 Crore by the next year from ₹4,380 Crore in 2018. If we look at only poker, industry reports claim that the online poker industry is currently expanding at a rate of 35 – 40% year-on-year (YoY).
It is also reported that about 40 million people, which measures to roughly around 6.8% of the net adult population in India, played poker on a regular basis two years ago. However, the online poker market has increased by nearly 43% now. Additionally, the number of first-time poker players has increased by nearly 255%. Why? COVID-19! The global pandemic and nationwide lockdown had people confined to the four walls of their homes. Being temporarily cut-off from the real world sources of entertainment, Indians set on to look for virtual modes, and poker offered them that. The cherry on the cake was the real cash prizes that the game brought into their bank accounts.
ALSO READ: Escalation of Women Poker Players in India
While the number of recreational players increased, the existing recreational players decided to dive deep and pursue the game professionally. If numbers aren’t enough to prove, how many of us recall seeing commercial advertisements of poker on our television screens five years ago? None of us, right? That’s because the industry and the game was so niche that poker companies never thought of marketing their brand and products via mass communication mediums like the television, radio or even newspapers.
Fast forward to 2022, almost all of the top poker brands in the country have started advertising on television, and newspapers. It does not just end there. Poker brands have even started collaborating with mainstream celebrities in a bid to spread awareness about poker being a game of pure skill.
Spartan Poker, which is one of the most loved and preferred poker platforms in the country, has been ahead of its time. While other platforms were trying to establish a foothold, Spartan Poker was already out on the streets trying to acquire new users to gain further hold in the circuit. Be it tricycle advertisements in 2016, or large hoardings and bus stop hoardings in cities of Mumbai, Ahmedabad, Bengaluru and Goa or even a logo on No Parking sign boards. Spartan Poker was the torchbearer that took the initiative to educate the audience about the game.
Adxpress Tricycle Advertising
Ties up with (Spartan Poker) For Branding
In Mumbai Area.
— Monish Chicholiya (@MChicholiya) October 7, 2016
That’s not all. In 2017, around 18,000 rickshaws in Mumbai had Spartan Poker stickers on them. Apart from Mumbai, around 6,000 – 8,000 rickshaws in Ahmedabad and around 4,000 rickshaws in Bengaluru also had Spartan Poker’s banners pasted on them.
Celebrities like Rannvijay Singha, Anita Hassanandani, Ishita Dutta and others have been associated with the brand ever since its early days. The brand had also released digital campaigns back in 2017.
While one of these campaigns promoted the ‘Two of a kind’ tournament, the other one was an awareness campaign featuring the then brand ambassador Rannvijay Singha.
On the other hand, Adda52’s hoardings were also seen in major cities in 2019.
The brand had West Indies cricketer Chris Gayle as its brand ambassador. Adda52 launched its first ever digital advertisement in 2019 around the theme ‘Bano Dimag se Ameer’ featuring Gayle.
In 2020, the brand launched a video promotion to encourage people to come and fall in love with poker.
In 2021, the brand launched a campaign with Bollywood actor Ali Fazal and singer Badshah. However, later the campaign was taken down.
In May this year, Adda52 roped in Sacred Games fame Jatin Sarna for a campaign.
Recently, Adda52 launched another campaign, with the tagline ‘khel jao’ which was aired on television.
PokerBaazi, which is one of the top poker brands in India, had banners pasted onto auto rickshaws in Delhi. The online poker room also had Indian wrestler Vijender Singh as their brand ambassador.
But the most significant marketing advancements of the brand took place lately, and how! In August this year a billboard was spotted that made a bold statement. A billboard by PokerBaazi read, “F**k Luck”
The brand made headlines by signing Bollywood actor Shahid Kapoor as their brand ambassador. The Udta Punjab actor was featured in a series of digital campaigns.
Needless to say, the marketing efforts by the brands have also increased manifold. Be it creating tournament specific hashtags or extensive promotions on social media, online poker brands are going full throttle to promote their offerings and in the process the game of poker.
The number of online poker players in India has also been racing with more than 3 million active players at present. The development of online poker is sure to reach newer heights. It is believed that the Indian poker industry is racing towards a boom primarily because of the ever-growing buzz around the game. The online poker operators have been witnessing a fresh rise in the traffic with respect to the growing popularity of the game which got a boost by previous lockdowns, remote working models and a growing interest in the card game.
While the growth and the journey may be impressive, there are some factors that are also pulling back the growth prospects. One of the major drawbacks that the industry faces is the legality of the skill game. Online gaming and gambling is currently permitted in only three states in the country, namely, Goa, Sikkim and Daman. States like Karnataka, Tamil Nadu (TN), Kerala and even Meghalaya continue to constantly struggle with the bans on online games including poker.
In October last year, the Karnataka government imposed a ban on online gaming in the state by making amendments to the Police Act of 1963. Following the ban several online gaming sites appealed to the Supreme Court to withdraw the ban. Later in February this year, the ban was struck down by the Supreme Court. According to the bench that struck down the law, the ban was deemed as unconstitutional and far excessive.
Similarly, the Tamil Nadu state government had passed a law in 2021 that prohibited all forms of online gaming, including games of skill. This ban was later revoked by the Tamil Nadu State High Court, which ruled out that the law was ultra vires in its entirety. It also observed that the state could formulate an ‘appropriate legislation’ to regulate online gaming.
Accordingly, the TN cabinet of the state government approved the Tamil Nadu Prohibition of Online Gambling and Regulation of Online Games Ordinance, 2022 on 3rd October. Recently on 7th October 2022, the TN State Governor gave his approval on the ordinance which banned online games in the southern state.
The Meghalaya Regulation of Gaming Act, 2021, which came into force earlier this year, was revoked last week by the state government. The news was revealed by the Minister of Taxation, James Sangma, following opposition from social groups including the church.
Apart from the restrictions on operations, a couple of companies that run online poker rooms have also been slapped with tax notices. Recently, Gameskraft, the parent company of the online poker platform Gamezy, was slapped with a tax notice worth ₹20,989 Crore for four years (2017-2021).
The notice from the GST council stated that the company was not issuing invoices to the customers which violated Section 15(3) of the CGST Act, 2017. Additionally, it also said that the company was expected to pay a tax of 28%. However, the company released a notice which stated that the 28% tax slab was for games of chance and lottery, and 18% for online platforms offering games of skill. Gameskraft clarified that they have been paying the 18% tax applicable to them as its platform offers only games of skill.
The resistance to the game of poker from the government is primarily due to the ongoing debate about the distinction between games of luck and games of skill. Poker is often misinterpreted as a game of luck or gambling, and thus continues to be under the scanner in India.
Last month, the Government of India proposed a regulatory body for online gaming, which would comprise a panel including Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s top bureaucrats like sports ministers, revenue ministers and others. The panel will suggest the implementation of a regulatory body that will be instrumental in governing online gaming in the country. The regulatory body will also classify online games based on skill or chance along with issuing a report that will eventually lead the path for the future of the online gaming industry in the country.
With the implementation of the proposed body, India will hopefully get a central authority that will regulate poker and other real money games across the country. This will help bring uniformity by eliminating the varying state implementation of gaming laws. The online gaming industry in India would also benefit and grow manifold with the central government’s guidelines and regulatory body to monitor this rapidly expanding space. Only the regulations laid down by a central governing body can tell whether the online gaming industry will witness a headway or whether they are looking at a major headache coming their way!
Amarylisa Gonsalves is a Content Writer at Gutshot Magazine. Advancing from a marketing background, she found her calling in writing. She takes delight in exploring genres and is a curious learner. Patient and ambivert, she believes in letting her work speak for itself. Apart from content writing, she finds solace in writing poetry by expressing herself through words. Additionally, she adores indulging in anything that satisfies her creative self, like drawing and DIY crafts.
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