India has become a poker hotspot in recent years. Since various pieces of legislation were passed in regions such as Nagaland, the industry has grown quite considerably.
From an initial value of $120 million in 2016, according to The Economic Times, revenue from poker has continued to surge.
Between 2018 and 2019, online card games, including poker, generated more than $510 million. These figures run in line with forecasts from KPMG.
The accounting firm’s research shows that India’s online gaming industry is on track to reach the $1 billion mark in 2021.
KPMG analysts also believe online poker will play a major role in the industry’s growth. As well as noting the present popularity of No Limit Hold’em and card games such as Teen Patti, KPMG’s report states that virtual reality (VR) will “enhance” the “gaming experience.”
While VR is yet to make an impact on poker in general, it’s starting to reshape the game. However, before that happens, online poker in its current form is establishing itself in India through a variety of mechanisms.
Interestingly, there is a single thread running through all of these mechanisms. In an effort to establish poker in India, operators, ambassadors, and players have all focused on the importance of skill.
Promoting Poker as a Game of Skill
Anyone who's taken poker seriously will know that the game's skill aspect can't be ignored. Using a push fold chart to understand the mathematics of heads-up play is one way of getting better.
From there, you can watch pros play and see how they analyze a hand. Finally, you can review your own hands using products such as PokerTracker to improve your skills.
India's budding poker population is embracing these tools, and that's helping to increase the game's popularity.
The question, however, is what does this increase in popularity look like from a practical standpoint?
The obvious change since 2016 is the appearance of poker sites. From the big-name brands to the local start-ups, India is now awash with options.
In terms of games and features, top online Indian poker sites offer something for players at every level.
Welcome bonuses are extended to new players, while cashback and VIP offerings are used to boost loyalty among the existing ones.
Review sites also demonstrate how most platforms seek to resonate with their users by working within systems most people are already familiar with: their poker games are mobile compatible and varied payment methods are offered.
The variety of games, including Hold’em and Pot Limit Omaha, is another way of appealing to a broad spectrum of players.
These Indian poker sites have given people a place to play, but that's not the end of the story. Survey the industry as a whole, and you'll find that there's a whole infrastructure built around these platforms.
For example, the Poker Sports League is an annual competition that aims to find the best players in the country.
Poker as Entertainment
For the Poker Sports League, each region has its own team that players can join by winning online qualifiers. Alongside these aspiring amateurs is a selection of pros and celebrities picked by the team captain.
The teams compete in a series of matches across various formats designed to test their poker skills in all areas.
The team with the best overall results is declared the winner and the Poker Sports League champion.
As well as being highly entertaining, the league is another way in which the industry promotes poker as a skill game and, in turn, a sport.
Building on this, many of India’s leading poker sites have recruited stars of the stage, screen, and sporting world to represent their brands.
The cricket legend Chris Gayle has worked with Adda52 to promote the game in India and, again, help define it as a sport. The same goes for sportsmen like Mahendra Singh Dhoni and Vijender Singh.
Of course, it’s not all about skill. As well as promoting poker as a sport, local operators and ambassadors have highlighted its entertaining side.
The money you can win and the ability to outsmart an opponent are great. However, when all is said and done, people play poker to have fun.
The country’s poker operators haven’t overlooked this fact. In 2018. the Match Indian Poker League (MatchIPL) joined forces with MTV to launch Pro Hunt.
This show was basically the X Factor for poker players and aimed to find the country’s top new talents.
Sticking with the entertainment theme, 9Stacks decided the best way to promote its product was to create a rap video.
Working with Dependent Artists, the company released Hustle Hai. The 2019 track was so popular that 9Stacks rereleased it with a new video in 2020.
The Stage Is Set for Massive Growth
When you piece all of these elements together, India is fast becoming a hub for online poker. Although it’s still young, all the ingredients for success are there.
Moreover, there’s a clear appetite for the game in the country’s 1.3 billion population.
Whether or not it can rival markets such as the UK, America, and Brazil remains to be seen. However, the level of both talent and interest is increasing.
More players are finding their way into the game, and, in turn, this is producing winners on the world stage.
Players such as Nipun Java and Aditya Agarwal have won WSOP bracelets. Their success is starting to inspire the next generation of poker players who now see poker as a competitive endeavor that can open doors both inside and outside India.
For an industry that’s less than a decade old, poker’s growth in India has been impressive. The key to maintaining this over the coming years is investment and innovation.
If operators invest money to attract new players and improve their products, the market has the potential to become one of the biggest in the world. That would not only benefit the local gaming economy but poker in general.
With a fresh crop of talent coming through and more opportunities for players at all levels, including young GTO specialists, the emergence of poker in India will help the industry as a whole in the coming years.