7 Minutes Read
Poker in India has undergone a remarkable change over the past few years. While the industry has endured big upheavals, buoyed by incoming investment and rising popularity of poker among the masses, online poker continues to grow at a steady pace. The past twelve months have seen many new online poker sites popping up on the Indian gaming map, while established brands took steps to engrain themselves more firmly within the domestic circuit. On the whole, online poker’s unmatched progress has been an invaluable contribution to the industry and it has played a pivotal role in stabilizing the poker eco-system.
As we look into the five major factors that led to the growth of the Indian poker industry in 2018, topping our list and #1 is the crucial role played by the online poker sites in promoting poker in the country.
The recent years have seen a number of poker sites open and shut shop, but 2018 was the year when the major industry operators were able to consolidate their presence in the market. Unchained by the many limitations that surround live poker, the online poker segment saw unbridled growth and set in motion an upward trajectory for the industry’s advancement. With huge marketing spends and innovative acquisition models, online sites kept doling out lucrative promotions all year round resulting in massive growth for the industry.
Almost every operator in the business played a vital role in expanding the player base of the mind sport. Competition was the buzzword prompting operators to allocate higher marketing budgets in order to run smartly tailored promotional qualifiers, that went a long way in widening the poker audience in the country.
With the advent of global brands like PokerStars into the domestic poker landscape and with many international investors showing interest in start-up poker sites like 9stacks and Pocket52, poker continues to remain in the driver’s seat as far as pushing the growth of poker in the country goes!
Poker may be a a game of skill, but it also has a glamourous side to it. And nothing describes glamour better in the country than Bollywood and cricket. Both these industries have captivated the imagination of the masses for generations. It was no surprise when poker sites started appointing mainstream celebrities as brand ambassadors, and as expected the crowds starting reeling in.
India’s oldest poker site Adda52 onboarded former Bollywood actress Minissha Lamba as it’s first celebrity pro in October 2017 and went on to sign up West Indies’ cricketing legend Chris Gayle as a brand ambassador in August last year. The site ran regular ‘Gayle-centric’ online promotional campaigns and Gayle was also seen in the site’s live promotional programs like the ‘Poker Nights with Gayle’ Diwali bash in Mumbai.
PokerBaazi that had model and Bollywood actress Sunny Leone as it’s brand ambassador in 2017, thereafter signed on Olympic bronze medal winning boxing champion Vijender Singh as it’s brand ambassador last year.
The celeb-centered PR outreach was seen across other gaming segments like Rummy and Fantasy Sports as well. Fantasy sports platform Dream11 roped in former Indian cricket captain MS Dhoni to endorse it across all popular channels.
All these celebrity endorsements brought poker closer to the masses which in turn increased the game’s player base.
By synergizing Bollywood and cricket with poker, the game endeared itself to the masses, but when online poker sites started offering packages to international tournaments, it ventured into the business of turning dreams into reality!
9stacks took the charge here as it sent over 25 players on an all-expenses paid trip to Las Vegas for the World Series of Poker (WSOP) last summer. 9stacks qualifier Nishant Sharma cracked the top 50 mark in the 2018 WSOP Main Event, becoming India’s best WSOP Main Event finisher till date.
Adda52 also ran its own promotion for Vegas and other international events. PokerBaazi fast caught up on the trend by hosting satellites to The Indian Poker Series (TIPS) in May. In September, Shravan Chhabria won the Adda52 Godfather 4.0 SnG tournament to win a ₹10 Lakhs Europe package for WSOPE Rozvadov, while MadOverPoker is currently running promotions with packages to TIPS 2 Winter Edition in Rozvadov up for grabs.
PokerStars had already established a relationship with the Indian masses when it signed on two Indian pros as its brand ambassadors. Strengthening its roots in the domestic market, the global giant joined hands with the Global Poker League (GPL), becoming its skill partner for the inaugural season of GPL India. The brand also gave out 5 Platinum Pass to the now concluded PokerStars Players NLHE Championship (PSPC).
Similar to its WSOP initiative, 9stacks recently ran the ‘Aussie100’ promotion where a big group of Indians qualified for an all-expense trip to Melbourne, Australia to participate in the 2019 Aussie MILLIONS. The newly launched PokerRaj has also been running qualifiers that offer players the opportunity to represent India at the International Federation of Match Poker (IFMP) Nations Cup to be held in Ireland later this year.
While it is possible for established players to fly out to international destinations to participate in tournaments, budding talents who are still trying to build their bankrolls often find themselves at a disadvantage. These promotions and packages offered by online poker sites help budding players to not only get a feel of the international tournaments, but to also play against with some of best players from across the world!
The biggest factor propelling the growth of Indian poker was the manner in which online sites reinvested large portions of their profits and revenue into engagement and activation of players by offering attractive promotions and packages. Many of the top industry operators gave TDS rebates on tournaments and other promotions like free bankrolls, cash game leaderboard challenges, high-value tournaments, tournament overlays, leaderboard prizes to lure customers and also helped replenish the depleting liquidity in the poker eco-system.
From PokerBaazi to Adda52, 9stacks, PokerStars India and the others, all the major stakeholders gave out good bonus offers and coupled them with freebies and reload bonuses. The poker sites also made headway onto the live scene by sponsoring live poker events and setting up live poker rooms in casinos. Adda52 launched the Adda Live Poker Room aboard the Casino Deltin Royale in Goa, while PokerBaazi overtook the Phoenix Poker Room in Bengaluru. MadOverPoker also hosted a live version of its signature event, Hysteria at the Tilt Room in Bengaluru.
Venturing into the digital marketing space, online poker sites entered into tie-ups with e-commerce giants like Amazon and PayTM. As these sites invested in mainstream advertising and other digital marketing verticals, they were able to broaden the poker base in the country by reaching out to larger audiences.
Apart from strong PR and promotional moves, the online poker sites kept to a tournament centred approach in 2018. PokerBaazi was always been a tournament centric brand and took the game to the next level by increasing their tournament guarantees month-on-month – edition by edition. It was the first of the online poker sites to announce a ₹1 Crore GTD tournament and are now the first as well, to come up with a ₹2 Crores GTD tournament i.e. the Game Changer, that is coming up next month.
We also saw 9stacks increasing it`s focus on tournaments. Backed with funding that they received towards end of 2017, the site started the year with a promotion-heavy calendar which saw them hosting a promotion to send one of the largest Indian contingents to the WSOP. Later in the year however, the focus shifted to MTT`s with the launch of Sunday regular tournaments like the Sunday Stacks and most recently, the Sunday SLAM that have been offering good value in terms of prize pool guarantees to online players.
The Spartan Poker also hosted seven editions of the Destiny series that offered players a Europe tour package worth ₹20 Lakhs, along with hosting a TDS Cash Back promotion in which a bonus to the tune of 30% of net winnings was credited back to the player as tax rebate.
At the global level, PokerStars has traditionally kept to a tournament-focused approach and the site has come in with the same strategy in India. Initially offering high-guarantee events, the brand had to cut down on their tournament guarantees given the slow initial response. Lately, the brand’s tournament offerings have been picking up pace following the revamp of their Sunday mainstay tournament, the Sunday Special, to a progressive KO format.
With online poker sites continuing on its march of unhindered progress, this segment remains as the biggest growth accelerator for the Indian poker fraternity.