Amid Legal and Social Complexities, Indian Poker Ventures Thrive
Amid Legal and Social Complexities, Indian Poker Ventures Thrive

Millions of Indians regularly enjoy poker games on their favourite app. The once niche status of the game is slowly giving way to mass popularity, thanks largely to online gaming platforms. However, the poker industry continues to face new challenges and somehow manages to overcome them convincingly. 

The Skill Question, Answered

Cricket is a game of skill. But there is a small game of chance that takes place before every cricket match. It is the ceremonial coin toss to decide who will bat (or bowl) first. Neither captain has any control over the outcome of the toss. This is true for any game of chance. In poker, however, you can alter a poor poker hand ranking with your skills and techniques.

hat’s what the Supreme Court declared as well, and subsequently has been upheld by several high courts too. The Madras High Court, for instance, asked the Tamil Nadu government to explain how rummy and poker, declared as games of skill by the Supreme Court, become games of chance when played online. Poker apps like Pocket52 are internationally certified as bot-free, as are their random number generator software. Not surprisingly, the government didn’t find any evidence of bots, any scope of prior information or manipulation on the part of the gaming software.

Overcoming the GST Burden

It is a well talked about fact that the online games industry is subject to the maximum GST rate of 28% on the face value. This has been challenged by the online games industry, which the Supreme Court has agreed to look into. Encouragingly for the industry, ace advocate Harish Salve is representing the matter. 

The rate was decided on July 2023 and it was levied on the value of contribution placed, instead of gross revenue, albeit on a trial basis. GST Council included online gaming under the scope of actionable claims, which had earlier included activities like lottery, betting, gambling and recently horse racing. Salve contests this categorisation.

For the industry, a high GST rate means a reduction in profit margins. However, the popularity of online games, technological advancements in gaming, high-bandwidth networks, and immersive gaming experiences are some of the factors that have kept the industry on a growth trajectory. 

Social Perception of Poker

In their most socially acceptable form, card games in India are an interactive form of entertainment. They bring together friends and family for a poker game or rummy session. The social acceptability of poker in India has received a boost with the launch of high-profile tournaments. For example, you can participate in Pocket52 tournaments using your account, with minimal buy-in amounts. 

While poker was mostly associated with social gatherings and friendly contests, online poker has transformed it into a more competitive skill-based activity. The popularity of online poker platforms has shifted the social perception of poker, adding to its growth as a recreational activity.

Growth Despite Challenges 

As per recent estimates, online poker continues to grow at 30-40% year-on-year in India. This is an impressive rate because poker is still at a growing stage in Indian society. According to Redseer’s report on online gaming, poker will continue to increase its presence in the real-money games market in India, from a 7% share in 2020 to 10% in 2026. It is worth noting that poker also has the highest user retention rate among all the real-money gaming options in India.

While maintaining healthy growth despite challenges, poker game platforms are continuing to ensure that the game is played in the right spirits as well.

Towards Responsible Gaming and Awareness 

Poker platforms are focussing on awareness and education to build a positive social perception of the game. They provide tools for promoting responsible gaming and fostering awareness about the game.

Poker's learning curve is quite high compared to other skill-based games. Mastering poker is a major challenge, which has kept it a niche game in most countries. Platforms are offering free games and tournaments so that new poker players can hone their skills before entering the real-money gaming ecosystem.

Platforms are taking additional precautions to keep poker rooms bot-free. Technological measures ensure that a game of poker takes place between real players only. The strong focus on fair play and transparency has also made poker in India a secure source of online entertainment. Fair play violations are strongly dealt with while randomness is the basic criteria in every poker game.

Thriving Graciously

From the discontent over tax rates to incorrect categorisation as a game of chance, poker has faced daunting challenges. It is fast shedding its niche tag, and working its way towards a more universal popularity while growing at a rapid pace. On top of that, online poker in India is proving to be a safe recreational option for poker enthusiasts.

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