Over the last few years, the live poker scene in India has been booming with the influx of new players and recreationals. However, the frequency at which live tournaments happened shot up considerably in 2019 with all major players hosting their live tournament series on a regular basis.
In 2020, poker action shifted from live to online after the Coronavirus hit the human race and led to the lockdown in India and other parts of the world. With a curb on gatherings and meetings due to the lockdown, all major live poker festivals across the world were either cancelled or moved online.
Indian Live Poker Scene In 2020
2020 looked like a BIG year for poker in India as the live poker scene was well-setup with several major tournaments lined up to take place in Goa and other parts of the country. However, once the COVID-19 hit and led to the nationwide lockdown in March, the live poker came to an abrupt halt.
People lost the opportunity to travel to play their favourite game as casinos in the country were shut down due to the lockdown. Several live festivals like DPT Xpress, DPT, the inaugural National Poker Series (NPS) and the second edition of the 2020 India Poker Championship (IPC) were cancelled. With no holding of live poker games, the casinos in the country faced an extreme fall in the revenue.
There were no tournaments after February in 2020. The Baazi Poker Tour (BPT) and India Poker Championship (IPC) were the only two big live events to happen back-to-back in January, while the DPT Xpress February 2020 that caters to low-to-mid stakes was the last live festival of the year.
Online Poker Scene In 2020
Online poker was on a growth trajectory even before the lockdown. However, once the lockdown came into effect, we witnessed an unprecedented surge in the traffic and revenue, which was great for the overall industry as it generated immense value both for players and operators in the country.
To battle boredom and earn extra money during lockdown, thousands of people, including some of those who lost their jobs or left it, embraced online poker. Even many of these became regs and are now playing regularly. A lot of recreational players also turned into regs and there is already a big bunch of this new crop crushing it online. Many live players who never played online before started playing online and some of them did really well, benefiting from the inexperienced and new players.
Guarantees on all major poker platforms were crushed and increased at the same time, especially during the early phase of the lockdown. There was a huge increase in referrals, new sign-ups and deposits on online venues like Adda52, Spartan Poker, Poker Dangal, Calling Station, Pocket52, etc. which led to a surge in the traffic and revenue. To cash in the opportunity presented by the pandemic, poker websites like Adda52, Spartan Poker, Poker Dangal and various other sites not only introduced amazing new tournaments and offers, but also upgraded themselves with insane graphics and features to cater to players in a better way and enhance their playing experience.
While all leading poker sites benefited from the surge in traffic during the lockdown, Adda52 and Spartan Poker were the ones that made the most of the opportunity by doling out massive guaranteed tournaments and lucrative offers. Adda52 not only hosted several Adda52 Online Poker Series (AOPS) editions, but also did a great job by adapting the prestigious live poker event, WPT India, to the online felts and ‘WPT Online India’ took shape and offered Indian players a fantastic experience. The crowning glory of the series was the 2.5 Crore GTD WPT India Main Event championed by Kumar Sahaj who won INR 50 Lac, plus a Hublot Classic Fusion chronograph watch worth U$10K and a $5K WPT passport, which can be used to compete in any WPT event in the world.
Spartan Poker has been a dominant force in India’s online poker industry over the years and 2020 was no different. The site hosted several massive guaranteed tournaments and championships with its India Online Poker Championship (IOPC)) and Final Table Series (FTS) being the key highlights. The site is now looking to kick off the 2021 on a bigger note with its flagship IOPC is coming back in its biggest avatar ever – INR 28 Crore guaranteed series that will run from January 14 to 31, 2021.
We reached out to India’s prominent poker operators to know their views on the live and online poker scene before, during and post the lockdown. Here is what they had to share with us:
Talking about Indian poker scene before, during and post the lockdown, Mr. Amin Rozani, Group CEO of Spartan Group, said, “Poker is a game that requires people and interaction. However, it has been impacted hugely due to the Coronavirus pandemic. There has been a lockdown and restrictions across the globe due to which there has been a curb on gatherings and meetings and thus there is no ability for people to meet up at live poker tables and play. Before the pandemic, the poker industry was booming as live poker tournaments like India Poker Championship (IPC) were breaking records with the introduction of big events like Highroller and Super Highroller. In fact, it recognized and crowned the India Poker Champion of the country before the pandemic. However, during and post lockdown, the whole poker scene has gone virtual as there is no holding of live tournaments as long as the virus is still wrecking the world. This has meant that poker sites are fully concentrating on making the online portal innovative for players to experience the game to the fullest.”
When asked about the best things that happened in poker during lockdown, Rozani said, “During the lockdown, poker action shifted heavily from live to online, which in turn attracted a lot of new players who were looking to combat boredom as well as wanted to make extra money. This definitely worked great for the online poker industry and led to an unexpected jump in online traffic and revenue. With these variations, poker operators leveled up the online tournaments and championships to lure poker enthusiasts, some big events like IOPC and Final Table Series worked best for the industry during the lockdown”.
Manish J. Adnani
Talking about the Indian poker scene during the lockdown, Mr. Manish J. Adnani, Business Head of Poker at Deltin Royale who now also heads the Adda52 Online Tournament Team, said, “2020 was well set up to be a massive year for live poker. However, once the COVID hit the human race, live poker became a distant dream. However, from an online standpoint, it was great for the industry overall. Player base has widened substantially and participation at the real money tables in tournaments and cash have both shown exceptional growth. We adapted the WPT live event to the online felts and WPTOI took shape and offered the Indian players a fantastic event.”
He further added, “Adda52 team has been relentlessly working on the cards up streaming which was achieved in record time and showcased to the players during WPTOI being an industry first initiative.”
Throwing light on the poker scenario before, during and post the lockdown, Mr. Karan Gandhi, Co-Founder of Poker Dangal, said, “Before the lockdown, the scene of poker in India was going fine. The growth was constant due to innovative revenue models, real money gaming, in-app purchases, etc. Those who were already a poker player or keen enthusiasts were churning real cash through it. However, during the lockdown, we saw a sudden surge in the traffic. To combat boredom, stress, and isolation, people discovered online poker in India as a great source of leisure and to make some extra money. Now, the post lockdown scene of poker is also not so bad. I would say, the online poker industry was already on its growth trajectory, but now it has burgeoned like never before.”
Talking about how the pandemic affected live poker in lockdown, Gandhi said, “Live Poker in India is one of those businesses that were adversely affected during the pandemic. After COVID precautions, casinos and poker clubs were completely shut down and faced an extreme fall in their businesses.”
When asked about the best things that happened in poker during the lockdown, he shared the following points:
1-Poker in India has seen an impressive jump in both revenue and attentiveness, as pandemic-related restrictions roll into May, keeping millions of people at home and searching the new forms of entertainment. Indian audience got aware of a mindful game (Poker) that could keep them entertained while strengthening their thinking ability.
2.Due to the ban on certain apps, Indian poker platforms & online sites have started receiving audience recognition.
3.Millennials have figured out online Poker as an amazing source of passive income.
4.Because of increasing demand, Indian poker platforms have upgraded themselves with insane graphics and new features.
5.Lockdown has encouraged people to become slightly tech-savvy, which helped them to enjoy poker via online.
We also reached out to Ms. Deepika Patil, Product & Marketing Manager – Calling Station, who said, “The sense of uncertainty in this lockdown was deeply frustrating. It’s important to remain optimistic, that’s what I did. The pandemic and lockdown brought in so many changes work wise. Changes in communicating, networking like meetings have been replaced by email and virtual calls. But again, I believe that this is just a phase and normalcy will be back once a cure is found. The majority of the world, including India, self-isolated themselves by staying indoors which left them with plenty of idle time which resulted in more people indulging in online gaming. The online gaming industry has definitely benefited from all the social distancing and self-isolation.”
Talking about the impact of lockdown on the human lives and poker games in the country, she said, “COVID-19 has affected everybody’s lives and has changed the way in which we live. We are still learning to adapt, as quickly as possible, to this constantly evolving situation. No one has been spared in this pandemic. Every business sector has been affected, some positively due to higher demand for their products and services while others are affected negatively due to the extraordinary circumstances. The pandemic affected live poker in India drastically. Many scheduled events were forced to be cancelled abruptly due to the imposed restrictions to avoid large gatherings. Closure and suspension of casinos of live events across the globe has hit the live poker industry hard.”
Sharing her views on the online poker during the lockdown, she said, “Even though the pandemic was responsible for the socio-economic problems across the world, it also created an avenue of opportunities for the online gaming industry. Hopefully, the increasing popularity of gaming in the country will lead to an increase in the potential to be recognized and supported by the government.”
Talking about India’s poker scene before, during and post the lockdown, Soham Roy, Marketing Head – Pocket52, said, “Before Covid19-related Lockdown, Poker was heavily reliant on Physical places, mostly situated across Goa, with Employees working in casinos and providing a healthy income to people involved in this industry. Players especially the Pro ones relied heavily on them and frequently visited them. Lockdown came heavily on the ones involved in Physical establishments, but also gave birth to the new Normal that is Online Gaming across Poker, Rummy, Fantasy, etc. During the lockdown, it set the tone for Online gameplay and this opportunity was used with the top online poker gaming companies to capture the market and users. Post lockdown, serious gamers have multiple options to choose from, from bonus, withdrawals, trust to better customer service.”
When asked about how the pandemic affected the live poker scene in India, he said, “Overall, it’s a Win for the User. Though the COVID-19 has not been kind to the ones involved on the ground i.e Live Poker across establishments, it has been a boon to the gamers online.”
Talking about the best things that happened in poker during lockdown, he came out with the following points:
1. Massive opportunity to serve players from non-digital online to play poker sitting anywhere.
2. New players are showing interest in the game.
3. Players are now looking at improving their skills through books, online publications, blogs, articles, etc.
4. Online real money gaming companies from Fantasy to Skills saw the biggest jump in users.
5. Innovation – Every company providing online poker had to improvise to remain in the industry.