India, one of the most attractive igaming markets, is still puzzling for many global operators while many local brands enjoy high revenues received from tens of millions of active players. How does online poker fare on this market, what are the vital legislation points to understand, and who are the Indian players? 

Ekaterina Giganova, EvenBet Gaming CMO, shares her thoughts on why India is ‘too attractive as a market not to try’ before touching upon why the introduction of a well-thought out regulatory framework could present an attractive opportunity for foreign operators looking to expand.

How many online casino and sports betting players are there in a country with the world’s second-largest population, noted for the fact that gambling is inherited in the culture? And how many of them are visible to us and the country authorities in the situation of uncertain and controversial regulation?

India being one of the most promising igaming markets is, at the same time, also one of the toughest, for many reasons. The legal issues are a headache, with countless variations between different states and the whole online verticals banned by the federal law, not to mention the enormous size of both black and grey markets. 

The users’ preferences are not always evident for operators who used to work in Europe or North America. And the payment processing for igaming still causes difficulties for many projects.

However, India is too attractive as a market not to try. Some data suggests that right now, 10 per cent of all online gaming users are from India. According to recent surveys, 40 per cent of Internet users in the country gamble online while 80 per cent of adults make at least one bet a year. 

During the pandemic, as Business Wire India stated, online gambling in the country experienced a 21 per cent growth. India loses at least US$140m in taxes a year, due to the lack of online gaming regulation, and the market is predicted to grow to US$1bn in revenue within a few years.

How does poker fare?

Online poker is relatively lucky in India if compared to slots and most online casino games. Online casinos are officially prohibited as a form of gambling in most of the Indian states, while online poker is considered to be a game of skill and is therefore treated as neither gambling nor regulated (the same works for fantasy sports). 

This situation makes us face a lot of uncertainty: as long as the status of online poker as a game of chance or skill may be revisited by the state governments, and as far as lately some severe actions against online gambling have been taken (in Tamil Nadu and Telangana already, with more states considering similar measures), we cannot be sure that situation will stay favourable for online poker long.

At the same time, the black market of online casinos and sports betting during the pandemic is growing rapidly as never before. Without the access to the limited number of land-based casinos in four states regulating physical gambling, no horse racing (also game of skill in India), etc., this nation of heavy gamblers quickly has turned to illegal websites offering to spin a roulette, try luck in slots, or bet on one of the few sports events available.

Instead of introducing regulation, the governments propose more and more severe bans, and that doesn’t improve the situation with money spent in illegal casinos, gambling addiction, or fraud.

Regulation and the possibility to work legally and secure the business could be attractive for many local and some global operators interested in developing the Indian market. As for online poker, now its status is based on court precedents but is not fixed by law, except for five states which claim online poker as a form of gambling and either regulate (Nagaland, Sikkim) or ban it (Telangana, Andra Pradesh, Gujarat).

So, everyone entering the online market in India with whichever offering is legal here must consider either games of skill uncertain status or the possibility of the whole industry becoming illegal.

Indian players: mobile gen Z and rummy fans

We see a completely different approach to the igaming regulation, but can we also say that Indian players are different? Does the relatively legitimate status of online poker or fantasy sports affect their popularity? Are there any local preferences for the games?

Yes and no; pretty much as the rest of the world, Indian poker fans prefer Texas Hold’em, its’ Short Deck variation, and Omaha; these three game types make over 95 per cent of all poker games played. But a poker room might get a significant advantage if it also offers locally popular card games like Rummy and Teen Patti alongside poker. This combination would make a definite success recipe if the promotion strategy is right.

While marketing a poker room or a casino, one should also take into consideration that the actively playing audience here is young (if compared with North America, for example, where a huge part of online poker fans started playing during the poker boom of the noughties), mobile, and sees online gaming as a part of the lifestyle. 

No wonder that successful marketing campaigns for online casino and poker projects include using such tools as TikTok, YouTube lives and video shows, and other video marketing options, securing collaborations with local pop and rap stars, and other campaigns appealing to gen Z.