Recent news that PokerStars will start operating in India by the end of the year is proof positive of the country’s potential to become an exciting and thriving online poker market. Some suggest the vertical could be worth up to $150m per year, putting it ahead of established markets such as the UK ($115m) and Italy ($130m).
While regulatory uncertainty remains, some states have granted local operators online licences after ruling poker to be a game of skill. These local operators have the option to join forces with international online poker brands, such as PokerStars, who can run sites from their licences.
India is a potential gold mine for online gambling, and particularly poker, with a high propensity for playing the game among its population of 1.3 billion. With many playing in local clubs, the ease and convenience of being able to play whenever they want, wherever they are, will drive engagement higher still.
India presents some unique challenges for operators looking to get in on the action. The country boasts one of the fastest smartphone adoption rates on the planet – there are more than 300 million devices in circulation – which in turn means mobile will be the channel of choice for most players accessing online games.
But mobile is an area where online poker operators and platform suppliers have dropped the ball; many have yet to embrace HTML5 as a development platform and mobile products lack basic features and functionality found in most desktop offerings. Compared to casino, poker is dusty and archaic.
The lack of quality on mobile is one of the main reasons the vertical has been in decline in markets around the world; simply put, players expect more from a mobile gaming experience and, disappointed by what poker has to offer at present, have simply gone elsewhere for their entertainment kicks.
The key to success in India, and, indeed, other new and emerging markets, will be ensuring mobile poker products are cutting edge and packed with innovative tools, features and functionality. It means changing game formats so they are fast and frenetic and better suited to on-the-go mobile play.
It is something Connective Games has been prioritising for some time now; we shifted development to HTML5 and in particular WebGL months ago and have been hard at work to replicate and advance the speed, power and functionality of our desktop platform on mobile.
At the same time, we have improved our native mobile applications to provide greater access to games beyond the non-downloadable browser format.
State-of-the-art functionality has been our focus, but we have also spent time fine-tuning ease of use and improving the overall quality of experience. This includes giving players a simple and convenient interface, including controls optimized for finger taps, nice readable fonts, the chance to customise the layout and a host of other on/off options.
Our mobile multi-tabling feature allows players to conveniently play 10 games – Sit&Gos or tournaments – at the same time. All the vital information regarding what is happening on the table is available in one place. This reduces wait time to zero, and keeps players engaged and entertained for longer without taking them out of the zone.
But there are other challenges to overcome in India. Such as different, often more ruthless, business practices and cultures, language barriers, and alternative ways of doing things. But this is the case in all new and emerging markets, and operators that get in on the action now stand the best chance of succeeding in the long-term.
To really maximise the opportunity, however, operators must work with platform suppliers experienced in entering new markets, and those who offer state-of-the-art mobile platforms and technologies. India certainly has the potential to spice up the online poker vertical, but only if the right products are offered to players.
(Published by iGaming Business, Press Section, September 2017)