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2018 has been a year of ground-breaking developments for the Indian poker industry. With the year-end just around the corner, we recap the five major factors that led to this growth and helped the poker industry progress even in a challenging environment.
Number five on our list is the pathbreaking institutional investments and VC funding in the poker and real money gaming sector this year that saw several start-ups and established players raking in crores in capital infusion.
The gaming industry has undergone a massive evolution, and even though legal clampdowns in the states of Gujarat and Telangana created an atmosphere of legal ambiguity around online poker, the industry overall has continued to prosper.
The going hasn’t been easy for the poker industry that has been dealing with various legal issues since inception. Now add a 30% tax deduction to that and the very dynamics of surviving becomes a task for an industry which is still in the nascent stages of development. Despite these factors, 2018 saw an explosive growth in the industry as investors poured in crores in the various poker companies that played a very crucial role in this growth story. So, even though poker occupies a niche space in the real-money gaming domain, it has still managed to win the trust of investors.
One of the primary contributing factors to the increased investor interest in this space has been the rising popularity of mobile gaming in India that has advanced at a rapid rate due to the affordability of smartphones and easy accessibility of cost-effective data plans.
The boost in mobile gaming has benefitted other real money industries as well, case in point being fantasy sports and Rummy. While fantasy sports has seen phenomenal growth in just a few years, Rummy on the other hand has been around for much longer. A more popular game than poker, Rummy is often even considered a ‘family game’, and therefore, it has a larger target audience.
While the international scene witnessed global giants like PokerStars and partypoker making several game-changing deals this year, India wasn’t far behind. Two success stories this year were 9stacks and Pocket52, with both companies successfully raising sizeable amounts in funding.
The Delhi-based start-up, 9stacks, launched in April 2017 and was fast on picking up angel funding from a group of investors by December the same year. Backed by industry veterans with the premium IIT-IIM pedigree and an in-house client, the company seems to have launched with all the basics in place!
Quick on the buck, 9stacks came out all guns blazing by channelling most of their marketing budget towards a mega-WSOP promotion that ended up sending an impressive 25 Indians to the largest poker tournament in the world i.e. WSOP 2018.
Not surprisingly, just 17 months after launch the company closed out a successful Series-A funding round led by WaterBridge Ventures.
According to an interview with PokerGuru, CEO Sudhir Kamath pointed out the areas in which the company is looking to invest its accumulated funds includes marketing, product development, industry consolidation, and other real money games to help steer the company towards a booming future.
This development was of intrinsic importance to the online poker industry as it helped to solidify poker’s presence as an emerging yet bankable sector in the gaming market.
Yet another poker start-up that has managed to differentiate itself in the small but crowded online poker industry is the Bengaluru-based firm, Pocket52. Though a different company, Pocket52 shares some glaring similarities with 9stacks, as the company too closed out the year on a positive note by raising an undisclosed amount in a seed funding round led by early-stage venture capital firm, Speciale Invest.
Co-founded by IIT graduate Nitish Salvi, along with Saurav Suman, Debashish Bhattacharjee and Satyam Verma, the Bengaluru-based online poker platform has taken big strides to become the only Indian firm to work with crypto-powered Random Number Generator (RNG) technology, along with incorporating other up-and-coming technological trends such as Blockchain technology, machine learning and Artificial Intelligence (AI).
While the investment that 9stacks received put online poker on the gaming map, Pocket52’s recent investment boost, has put the Indian poker sector in the limelight.
The real money online gaming space has grown tremendously in recent years in India and part of this success has been commanded by the Rummy segment. While the card game too faced its fair share of legal dilemmas, most notably the Mahalakshmi Cultural Association “Rummy for Stakes” case. However, the successful outcome of the trial in favour of the members of the club and the court’s decision not to rule on online Rummy ensured that no negative connotations could be implied on the game or on operators offering online rummy products that really helped the sector grow.
With poker brands like Adda52, PokerBaazi and Khelo365 also entering the fray, the Rummy industry is opening up even more. One of the latest developments in the sector came from Chandigarh based gaming start-up Rummy Passion that struck a strategic deal with UK-listed online bingo operator Stride Gaming, to divest 51% shares for $3.75 million (₹22.92 Crores) in November 2017.
With more national and international industry leaders turning their attention to this segment, the upward surge of growth for Rummy is expected to continue.
One of the biggest success stories to come out of the Indian gaming industry has been the fantasy sports provider Dream11, and 2018 has been a monumental year for the brand that now claims to be the biggest sports game provider in the world. Dream 11 raised ₹719 Crores ($100 Million) from Chinese social media and gaming giant Tencent. With Tencent’s reputation and business interests in iconic games like the World of Warcraft and Call of Duty, the investment indicates strong growth projections for the Indian fantasy sports segment.
The huge funding ensured Dream11’s bigger forays into the gaming sector. The brand roped in Indian cricketer and former captain of the national team Mahendra Singh Dhoni as their brand ambassador. Dream11 has also broadened its spectrum of games offered by its wide publicity via TV ads, inking partnerships with many prominent global entities like International Hockey Federation (IHF) and International Cricket Council (ICC).
One of the fastest-growing sectors on the gaming domain, social mobile gaming is integrally responsible for bringing about the online gaming evolution in India.
The biggest story here was Gamepind that picked up a massive ₹110 Crores ($16 Million) in August 2018. The funding was facilitated by Gamepind’s founders, One97 Communications- the parent company of India’s largest e-wallet firm Paytm and Hong-Kong based AGTech Holdings Ltd.
However, with big players like One97 Communications, Alibaba Group and Go-Jek looking to make investments in the Indian gaming sector, the future of real-money gaming seems bright and prosperous in 2019!