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2018 has certainly been a year of big moves and positive developments in the Indian gaming industry. Even as the online poker segment continues on its path of steady growth, the year-end brought with it some exciting news of institutional funding for another online poker start-up in the country. According to reports, Bengaluru-based online poker start-up Pocket52 has picked up seed funding from Speciale Invest. Pocket52 backed by strong IT focusing on emerging technologies like Blockchain, AI and Machine Learning is looking to differentiate itself from the other players in the market by using a crypto powered Random Number Generator (RNG).
Leading Indian fantasy sports operator Dream11 continues to expand and it’s latest collaboration saw it joining hands with the Women Big Bash League (WBBL) and KFC BBL as their official game partner till 2021.
Meanwhile, nabbing lottery and betting operators for evasion of Goods and Payments Tax (GST) seems to be on the priority list of the Mumbai police, who has over two separate raids, arrested the owner of a lottery center located on Carter Road and detained bookmakers operating at the Mahalaxmi racecourse for alleged GST evasion.
In international development, the Italian government increased gambling taxes amidst protest from operators, just as the President of Slovakia, Andrej Kiska vetoed the new gambling legislations presented by the Ministry of Finance and the legislature.
Bengaluru-based online poker platform, Pocket52 is a bold initiative of IIT graduate Nitish Salvi and co-founders Saurav Suman, Debashish Bhattacharjee and Satyam Verma. Also, the only Indian firm to take big strides in evolving the Random Number Generator (RNG) technology, Pocket52 seems to be heading towards a bright future with the fresh funding it recently received.
According to latest reports, the company has successfully raised an undisclosed amount in seed funding from Speciale Invest.
“Pocket52’s vision to bring technological innovations to the Indian online gaming sector is encouraging. They have a strong product differentiation around the game-play. Their integrity levels, fairness, and high-quality player engagement strengthen our confidence in them,” General Partner at Speciale Invest, Arjun Rao stated.
“The RNG+ technology, employed by Pocket52, is an additional security layer in their online card shuffle process. They drew this technological inspiration from some noteworthy companies like Cloudflare, which is a platform that acts as a medium to secure 10% of the entire world wide web,” he added.
The funding is another initiative by Speciale Invest to promote the Indian gaming industry. “The growth rate of the Indian online poker gaming industry is very high. It is a land of opportunities. Pocket52 has taken the technological lead in this space and we are happy to be a part of their growth journey,” founder of Speciale Invest, Vishesh Ramrajan said.
Salvi, who is a serial entrepreneur and is credited for the success of edu-tech startup Plancess that was later acquired by Career Point Ltd., is an ardent poker player who has been working hard to reconstruct the online poker experience with the help of Data and Machine Learning, in his role as CEO of Pocket52.
Verma who is the CTO of Pocket52 is also an avid poker lover himself and leads the development of the Pocket52 platform.
In context to developing a cryptographically secure RNG platform, Pocket52 is a pioneer in India. It has received certification by iTech Labs, a renowned global name in third-party certification from Australia.
Drawing inspiration from companies like Cloudflare, Pocket52 employs the RNG+ technology that works as an additional security layer in its online card shuffle process.
After a painstaking development of their software, the Pocket52 team is now looking to expand their consumer business, and funds from Speciale Invest will help the company work towards it’s ambitious future goals.
The Indian leader in fantasy sports, Dream11 has been offering an array of games on its platform and has already inked partnerships with professional sporting leagues such as Hero CPL, National Basketball Association (NBA) and most recently, International Hockey Federation (IHF).
Adding yet another dimension to their already expansive list of offerings, the company has now entered a three-year partnership with Australia’s professional Twenty20 League, KFC Big Bash League (BBL). The KFC BBL was launched in 2011 by the government body of amateur and professional cricket in Australia i.e. Cricket Australia.
“With over 800 million cricket fans and 50 million fantasy cricket users, India has become the largest fantasy sports market in the world. We are very excited to partner with BBL, one of the premier T20 cricket leagues in the world,” said CEO of Dream11, Harsh Jain.
As part of the agreement, Dream11 has become the official game partner of the Women BBL (WBBL) and KFC BBL till 2021.
Head of Digital at BBL, Finn Bradshaw said, “At Cricket Australia, we always seek to partner with world leaders in technology, and Dream11 is the clear global leader in fantasy cricket. We look forward to working with them to deepen our fan’s connection with the game they love.”
Since the BBL eighth season is currently underway, Dream11 and BBL kicked off their new association with fantasy contests for the Women BBL. With the partnership coming through, cricket lovers in India will be able to choose their favorite fantasy cricket teams during KFC BBL and WBBL.
Christmas eve brought bad news for the owner of a lottery center based out of Carter road in Mumbai that was raided by police for alleged evasion of GST on lottery tickets. Police took into custody, Rajesh Jaiswal who was allegedly issuing hand-written notes instead of printed receipts, in an attempt to evade taxes.
Police said that Jaiswal used to sell hand-written tickets to customers and inform them the results on the phone. This way he conducted his transactions in cash without paying any tax. Jaiswal has been booked under relevant sections of the Lotteries (Regulation) Act 1998 and the IPC.
Meanwhile, a raid by the Crime branch team of Mumbai police saw action being taken on bookmakers operating at the Mahalaxmi racecourse in Mumbai. Police apprehended a total of 120 people found to be allegedly accepting bets on horse racing in cash, without paying license fee or tax to the government. 18 of them were formally arrested and sent to two-day police custody, while cash worth ₹1.41 Crores was seized from the licensed betting stalls in the racecourse.
In addition to booking the culprits for cheating under the relevant sections of IPC, police registered cases under Maharashtra Prevention of Gambling Act and for contravening license conditions, under the Bombay Race Course Licensing Act, 1912.
Police also registered a case against the Royal Western India Turf Club Ltd (RWITC) aka the Mumbai Turf Club that has been granted a license by the government to operate a racecourse and accept bets on horse racing inside the club premises.
As the racecourse falls within the jurisdiction of the Tardeo police station, a case was registered there. The Tardeo police officials were however unaware of the raids that were conducted by officials from other police stations.
The RWITC was charged on the grounds of gambling and cheating, while the stall owners were booked under the Bombay Racecourse Licensing Act. The police said the fraud was done to avoid paying fees to the government. Overall, 21 stalls were raided, however only 18 owners were arrested.
Acting on a tip-off, the police team entered the racecourse premises at around 7.30 pm for the raid, led by DCP (zone III) Abhinash Kumar.
“The stall owners did not follow the formal channel to place the bets,” Kumar said. “The race was carried out illegally, thereby incurring loses to the government.”
The arrested 18 were produced before the Esplanade court on Saturday. Their bail applications were rejected, and they were sent to two days’ police custody.
On December 24, the Italian Senate issued new gambling tax increases, putting the new rates on track to become law by the end of the week.
The approved tax hikes are an amended version of the coalition government’s new budget which was passed in the Senate by a vote of 167-78. The amended budget was delivered to the Chamber of Deputies on Monday, and will be reviewed by the Budget Committee on December 27, before the full Chamber puts it to a vote the following day.
The local gambling industry has been in state of shock since the government disclosed its plans to raise the tax rates on online casino revenue, sports betting and virtual betting from January 1, 2019.
Even land-based sports betting wasn’t spared. Land-based gaming machines also saw steeper tax hikes than the government originally promised, and higher even than the rates announced last Wednesday. The tax rate on amusement with prizes (AWP) machine revenue will rise by 1.35 points on January 1 while minimum payout rates will fall two points to 68%. Taxes on video lottery terminals are going up 1.25 points while payouts will fall one point to 84%.
The Italian government thinks that these amendments will provide an additional €770 Million to the government’s annual coffers, most of which will come via the land-based industry, i.e. the casinos and other gaming establishments.
While Italy’s casino and online operators protest the tax rise, the government remained unmoved. Premier Giuseppe Conte said the tax hikes were included to “restore some equity” to the tax codes.
Slovakia was on the precipice of opening up its online market to international gambling operators through its new gambling legislation, but look like this move will have to wait.
On December 21, Slovakian President Andrej Kiska issued a statement saying he has refused approval of the online gambling regulations issued by the Ministry of Finance and approved by the legislature. Kiska claimed to have “reservations that prove the error of the whole concept of the approved law.”
According to Kiska, the new gambling rules contained insufficient consumer protection measures. He also faulted the legislation’s requirement for online gamblers to submit digital copies of their Citizen’s Card for identification verification. Kiska questioned if there was “a better way of demonstrating the eligibility to play gambling that would not pose a risk for the protection of sensitive and misleading personal data.”
Ultimately, the Slovakian President wants the legislature to grant local governments more authority in determining what type of gambling will be permitted within their municipalities. The legislation prevents gambling operators from setting up shops too close to schools, but Kiska wants to see this extended to include “places designed to express religious, moral and other personally sensitive attitudes, such as churches or institutions.”