3 Minutes Read
The unparalleled growth and progress of India’s poker industry, in recent years, has led to the mushrooming of many new online poker platforms in the past few months. While many such portals have withered away in the face of competition, PokerLion seems here to stay.
Owned and operated by Kolkata-based Ability Games Group, PokerLion is the brainchild of founder and director Navneet Makharia (cover image). Really, for this IMT Nagpur MBA who has previously been associated with ventures like SpeedMedicine and Leo Cements, PokerLion is not just another business. It is truly a front where his unbridled passion for perfection and competitive spirit comes into play.
What makes Makharia fit effortlessly as a forceful business presence in India’s fast expanding poker map is the fact that he is a poker enthusiast himself and has an inherent understanding of what the mind sport needs to popularise itself with the Indian masses.
This 28-year old entrepreneur has been working hard to not only offer the users of PokerLion ‘the ultimate gaming experience’ but to also remove the stigma that the society has labelled against the skill-based game of poker. While with his PokerLion offering he has endeavoured to bring in an error-free and easy to navigate site where money transactions are secure and quick, he is also a strong proponent of responsible gaming.
In conversation with PokerGuru, Makharia shares insight on the Indian poker industry and his vision for PokerLion. The energetic entrepreneur talks about his latest project, the fantasy sports platform 11Wickets, bringing Bollywood actor and model Sunny Leone on-board the 11Wickets team, and his plans for the future. Here are the excerpts.
Hello Navneet and thank you for speaking with PokerGuru. For the benefit of our readers, can you tell us a little about yourself?
I am born and brought up in the city of joy, Kolkata. I did my schooling from Birla High School and studied engineering at Vellore Institute of Technology and MBA from IMT Nagpur. My professional journey began as a trainee in different companies. Along these years, I was fortunate to work in different industries and got exposed to different work environments. Thereafter, I thought of starting a particular entrepreneurial venture, which was on my mind for quite some time, and this year in February, I launched PokerLion under the banner of Ability Games.
You were involved with ventures like Leo Cements and www.speedmedicine.com. How did the idea of Ability Games emerge? How did the idea of operating an Indian Poker website come into being?
It’s important to understand how different Leo Cements is from Speed Medicine and how distinctive Speed Medicine is from Ability Games! You know how industrialist Mukesh Ambani is handling so many diverse ventures. Call me ambitious but even I want that sort of exposure and want to tread a similar path.
A business venture like Ability Games was on my mind from a long time. I began playing real money games during my college days along with my friends. Poker was always my first gaming preference. When playing real money games at different domestic websites, I faced huge hindrances in cash transactions. I realised while depositing or withdrawing money that most of the sites didn’t have a user friendly interface.
The fact that I knew poker before venturing into playing on virtual portals helped me understand the games on these websites, and the hardships that new players had to face. These issues made me mull over a possible solution and I decided to create an error-free online poker game website for Indians.
Another major driving factor was that I wanted to spread poker as a sport among the masses, just like cricket, football and other sports. I explored more on the practicalities of the business and ultimately it led me to set up Ability Games, under which PokerLion has been developed and launched.
PokerLion went live in February this year. How has the response been since then?
We see a lot of poker websites in the market. Competition is tough for us. We made a modest start and in a few days and with a number of promotional offers, we were able to generate a good response. The things that attracted users were our freeroll games and our fair gameplay, the chance to win good cash prizes, exciting goodies, greater discounts and bonuses which were mainly devised for the poker players who are starting anew in this genre and need a good amount of practice to learn poker.
While launching PokerLion, you pledged to change the negative outlook that Indians have on poker and mentioned your aim to provide the ultimate gaming experience. How do you plan to accomplish this?
Poker is a game of skill and not luck, and this is what I tell everyone I meet. This is what I have even told all during PokerLion`s launch.
Unfortunately, poker is largely considered taboo in most Indian states. Assam, Odisha and Telangana were the first to prohibit poker and then it was banned in Gujarat.
We are eager to remove this taboo and popularise the game just like the other common sports in India and for this, encouraging people is crucial. We are working on this plan and lining up numerous promotional offers so that more people can find out that poker involves more skill than luck.
And yes, with PokerLion, we have pledged the ultimate gaming experience to players. Easy cash out and transactions, neat user interface, fraud-free and collusion-free games, fair dealings, a scope to both learn and earn from poker for the players are some features we focus on. We take the feedback of our users to make improvements in our platform. We do the market research to find out what we are lacking and what more we can offer and how we can improve our product and services.
It’s been just six months since we are in the industry and PokerLion is just a baby. Though we have grown fast in these six months, it will take us another year or two more to take PokerLion to its intended goal!
Please tell us about the core team and other founding partners. Please share their roles.
Ability Games, the parenting company of PokerLion is funded by me and my partners.
So, our team comprises of Om Sharma (Chief Technical Officer), Deepak (Chief Marketing Officer), Annu (Chief Financial Officer), Subrata (Customer Support Officer), Madhumita (HR Manager), Moumita (Chief Operations Officer) and Durba (Digital Marketing Officer).
Talk us through your partnership with Microgaming Network.
Microgaming has developed PokerLion’s gaming software and incorporated their technology to our website. Microgaming has got its feet firmly in the online gaming sector with a rich choice of games and superb quality. Our firm`s partnership with the software supplier has led to simple game navigation, software security, intelligent fraud analysis system, collusion-free software and safeguards which helps PokerLion players to play in a risk free manner and experience ultimate fun during their gaming sessions.
What are your views on the overall poker ecosystem in the country? What according to you are the current shortcomings and what solutions would you suggest?
We have seen phenomenal growth of poker industry in India. With so many poker platforms coming up and offering various variants of online poker games and trying to popularize the game, poker is being noticed by online gamers. Let’s hope the industry witnesses a boom in the near future and gets popularized as a sport. With PokerLion, we aim to play a big role in this evolution.
In terms of shortcomings, poker in India lacks maturity, which I trust will be overcome with time as people learn that poker involves intellect rather than luck.
What can the Indian poker players expect from PokerLion? What new promotions or offers will be in store for players going ahead?
At PokerLion, we offer the maximum cash as a welcome bonus to newly registered players, along with 2000 chips daily, and weekly offers. In addition to hosting tournaments every now and then, we have lots of attractive deposit bonus offers for our users where we’re giving up to 300% on certain amounts of real money deposits.
Our regular tournaments have some decent winnings in cash and in the form of goodies like iPhone, AC, music system, camera, iWatch, MacBook, iPad, etc. Along with these we are also offering bundle of tournament tickets on real money deposits.
You are the co-owner of Match IPL Team Goa Lions. What do you think about the various poker leagues in the country?
I am still one of the owners of Team Goa Lions of Match IPL. And these poker leagues act like catalysts in promoting poker as a sport. These leagues in future will represent India internationally.
With brands like PokerStars and 888poker about to make a splash in the Indian online poker space, what are your views on the increasing competition?
Competition is scary for the ones who accept defeat easily. I love competition. These brands make me analyse my platform, its deficiency and plans to make it attractive to the user. Hence, the more these brands are in the market, the more is the competition and greater will be my eagerness to improve.
Please tell us about the rummy platform www.rummy24.com? Are you planning to add more skilled based games to the offerings, like fantasy sports?
I can’t tell you much about the rummy24 as it’s still in the development phase. My technical team is working on it and I will soon come up with the launch date. Till then, let us keep the readers in suspense.
And yes, we have other skill-based games in our offerings for our users. 11Wickets is our fantasy sports platform and we have recently roped in Canadian born American Indian actress and model, Sunny Leone as our brand ambassador for the platform. With the user traffic 11wickets is getting, we are hoping great results pretty soon.
Please share your vision for your fantasy sports app.
We are very excited about 11Wickets. Our vision is to become most loved fantasy sports platform with simplicity.
Can you elaborate on 11Wickets association with Sunny Leone?
We aim to make 11Wickets an iconic brand in the world of fantasy sports, a champion of fantasy sports. I am happy that Sunny Leone has joined this family as our brand ambassador. We learned about her childhood links with sports and this made us approach her for the project, since we wanted someone who is new to the concept of fantasy sports.
Sunny is learning the basics of fantasy sports and through her learning process she will promote the brand to the users.
What is your expectations from PokerLion in say, a year from now?
I would love to give all my energy and focus along with my entire team in bringing the best offers and user interface for players. It is still early days for PokerLion. The focus is on building a strong platform, offering supreme services to players. I wish to see PokerLion to be a trusted poker platform in a year from now.
Any parting words or anything you would like to add?
I will say two things. First of all poker is a game of entertainment and income, and combines skill, calculations and psychology. Most importantly, yes, we want poker to become as common as cricket and football, but we also want poker players to play responsibly.