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Industry Talk: PokerStars India CEO Ankur Dewani on Company’s Plans & Association With GPL India

Industry Talk: PokerStars India CEO Ankur Dewani
  • Profile picture
  • PG News June 12, 2018
  • 4 Minutes Read

From being an avid poker player to the newly appointed CEO of Sachiko Gaming Pvt. Ltd (PokerStars India), Ankur Dewani (cover image) is in the thick of things within the Indian poker community. Being a poker enthusiast himself, who had participated in several live and online tournaments collecting total live earnings of $16,621 and a ranking of 194th on the India All Time Money List, Dewani has both the recreational and professional poker players best interests at heart.

Talking about India’s current poker scenario, the young CEO believes that although poker in India is in a nascent stage, it is on the rise. He explains how PokerStars India is trying to not only inspire the youth interested in the mind sport but also striving to provide a platform to the existing talent to display their prowess through live and online events.

He gives us a preview of all the exciting offerings that have been lined up by PokerStars India which includes the launch of the 5 Card Omaha variant and ₹25 Lakhs GTD Sunday Special and the assurance that the number of flagship events will be increased. He further shares his opinion on the disparity that exists in the supply and demand of online poker sites that may benefit players but does not benefit the industry. He also shares his views on how GPL India will help promote the game among the youth of the country by encouraging them to participate and allowing them a chance to meet their poker idols.

He also talks about the need for the state governments to support the poker industry for it to prosper. Here are excerpts from our conversation with him.

Hello Ankur, thank you for speaking with PokerGuru. Congratulations on the grand launch of PokerStars India. How do you look at Indian poker market and PokerStars brand’s presence in the country?

We are very excited to have finally brought PokerStars to India. It’s heartening to see the growth of Poker, and it is 100% thanks to early adopters, enthusiasts and those that have discovered a passion for the game. Obviously, it’s been well supported by the industry operators and hopefully PokerStars India will be the next growth catalyst for the game.

There has been comments from many in the Indian poker community that the PokerStars India launch was disappointing. You started off very aggressive with a ₹10 Lakhs welcome freeroll, huge guaranteed events and high value deposit codes but somehow the promotions seemed to have slowed down recently. What is the reason for the same?

I want to preface this by saying I am a poker player first, and fully understand the expectations. We launched with a very generous deposit offer, that is still ongoing, and the biggest freeroll ever in Indian poker history. We had a record breaking 3,387 registrations, which is a big win for Poker.

We always want to make sure we provide the best possible experience, so we wanted to focus on getting things right for players! With that taken care of, we are redoubling our efforts and concentrating on bringing exciting promotions and activities, such as our partnership with the GPL.

What can the Indian poker players expect from PokerStars India this Summer and even later this year?

We have a bunch of exciting initiatives lined up!

Following on from your previous question I’m glad to announce that starting tomorrow we’re ramping up our weekly schedule and introducing some very high value deposit offers. Our Sunday Special will change from ₹12 Lakhs GTD to ₹25 Lakhs GTD becoming the biggest weekly Sunday main across the board. Additionally, there will be a few other featured tournaments on Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday, totalling to over ₹1.2 Crore GTD every week.

We try to listen to what players are saying and have responded to requests to provide similar events to the ₹10 Lakhs welcome freeroll, which incidentally had the biggest field in the country. Players want the excitement of competing against a large field, and to emulate the experience, we have introduced a Saturday Eliminator that has a ₹500 buy-in with a ₹5 Lakhs GTD (1000x) Progressive Knockout. To make it even juicier, players who deposit over ₹2,500 in a week can enter for free using one of our new deposit codes. These will run until August! More to follow but it’s too soon to comment and I don’t want to spoil the surprise.

You recently roped in Muskan Sethi as brand ambassador of PokerStars India. What will be her role? Are you planning on adding more Team Pros to your rooster this year?

Muskan has been working really hard at her game, and her dedication, love for the sport and PokerStars brand has shone through over the last few years. She’s not only one of the first few female poker players in India, but her energy and drive to promote the game is what is most exciting for us. Not to mention her recent accolades and recognition by the President of India! Our role is to simply enable her and provide a platform to create awareness and create educational content to help those looking to learn more about the sport. But more about this will be revealed in the weeks to come.

Team Pros are a key part of our ecosystem and we absolutely plan on adding more Stars to the roster, albeit possibly in a slightly different format.

PokerStars.com continuously introduces new formats and variants of the game like the recently introduced Showtime Holdem. Can the same be expected from PokerStars India?

Absolutely, in fact we have just launched our 5 Card Omaha variant just last week! There’s a lot more planned and we will make sure Indian players get to experience the latest and best in poker innovation.

Tell us about PokerStars India`s association with GPL India.

We’re very excited to partner with GPL and our objective is to provide a free to play platform for enthusiasts across the country. Starting from June 25th, anyone can participate in GPL’s Online Qualifiers to vie for a spot in or simply play with some of the most respected players in Indian Poker.

The winning team will receive ₹1 crore (5 packages worth ₹20 lac each) and be eligible to participate in the PokerStars Players Championship that will be held in January 2019. The championship has a prize pool of over ₹65 crores! This is a life changing opportunity for anyone and I wish I could’ve participated!

Please share your views on GPL India format. What are your predictions/expectations from Season 1 of GPL India?

The aim is to make poker accessible, mainstream and to include the widest audience, hence free to play with a long schedule giving everyone enough opportunity to participate and back their favorite city, mentor, or just for a shot the massive PSPC prize pool.

In terms of expectations, we want to add as many new names and faces to poker as possible, but this is just our first year and it’s hard to gauge what numbers it will attract.

I am going to refrain from making any predictions, whilst I want my home city Mumbai to win, with such skillful mentors all around I’d be a fool to discount any team!

Many claim that India is one of the next high potential poker market. What are your views here?

India is surely one of the final frontiers for poker and there is no doubt in my mind that our poker boom hasn’t started yet. It’s still a very niche sport played by a small number of people (in the grander scheme of things).

Our goal setting up PokerStars India was to think of ways to help make poker accessible and mainstream. By 2020, we want to be able to have added at least 8-10x new poker players to the community.

After the online poker boom, we have seen a decline in live events being hosted in the country and turnout figures as well. Online sites offer way more guarantees and are hosted much more frequently. Do you think online poker will make live poker redundant in a country like India, given the taxes and traveling overheads?

Live tournaments play a vital role in the discovery or retention of the game. Whilst online may work for many because of convenience and frequency of high value tournaments, the overall experience of a live event is impossible to replicate. Live poker is more about an experience rather than the availability of a game.

There are cost implications and various factors to consider, but we need to start separating the two rather than comparing them as both offer different things. Travelling for a tournament isn’t just about profitability, it is a great way to socialize and stay in touch with the community, exchange thoughts on strategy and so on. New players get to meet some of their idols, attend unforgettable player parties, and who doesn’t like a holiday!

There are a lot of new poker sites that are opening every week in India. Do you feel there is room for new entrants to grow in the current environment?

In my honest opinion, there’s surely an imbalance in the supply versus demand at the moment. Over the last few years at least 20 or more sites have mushroomed (most didn’t survive) and all seem to be fighting for the same market share, as a result giving away tons and tons of value in guarantees and reload offers to the same set of players.Whilst this benefits the players, I’m not convinced that’s the right approach. It would be better if we used those resources to create more awareness about poker and help grow the community instead.

Unless sites can provide something which is a massive differentiator, I am not sure how so many sites can survive.

What are your views on the overall poker ecosystem in the country? What according to you lacks currently and what can be done about the same?

The poker ecosystem in India is young so it’s a time for growing, nurturing and learning. What’s important is to ensure that that the conditions are right on the industry side and that means making sure that players are well protected. PokerStars India offers responsible gaming, player protection and fraud detection mechanisms to help ensure the integrity of games and the safety of players

Regulation is an absolute must, of course. We, at PokerStars India, adhere to best practices and having regulation in place means that other approved operators will also have to be accountable when it comes to player protection and adhering to advertising codes and standards. Personally, I’d like to see support from local government bodies for live poker events, but it’s still early days.

What is your vision for PokerStars India in say 2 years from now?

We want to grow the game by making it available to all. We want people to enjoy the sport like it is enjoyed all over the world, alongside other much-loved mind sports and games of skill. I’d love to see poker growing three, four, five times over but our focus is on doing things right for the customer. If new players enjoy the game and experience, then word of mouth will spread. We’ll focus on doing what’s right and hopefully the community will grow along with us.

Any parting words or anything you would like to add?

Get involved – the GPL starts in a couple of weeks and is a great way to start off a poker career and support your city.

Dewani signs off!

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