The online gaming industry in India is touching new heights and has tremendous opportunities to grow. As per a KPMG report, the industry stood at 290 million in 2017 and is expected to touch a whopping $1 billion by 2021, following affordable new technologies, growing local developer ecosystem, localised games and more. Indeed, a growing number of online games such as Poker is a testament to the same. One of the key professionals building the industry is Amin Rozani, MD & Co-founder, Spartan Poker. Dubbed as the poster boy of poker, Rozani has been working towards the growth of poker in India. In an interview with Moneycontrol, Rozani spoke about his journey and vision for poker. Read on:
What led you towards Poker? When did you start playing poker?
Rozani: It's been about 10 years since my love affair with poker began as a player. It is just such an appealing card game and given my love for numbers, strategy and logic, I took to it like a duck to water.
When did you decide to get into poker business?
Rozani: It happened on a trip to Macau about 8-9 years ago. I went there as a tourist and player but after seeing the casino environment in which poker was offered, I returned to India with thoughts of getting into the business side of this mind sport. From managing small clubs to handling the biggest poker room in a Goan offshore casino vessel, my roots lie in live poker in this business.
How did Spartan Poker happen?
Rozani: While managing the poker room in Goa and pulling off our live poker tournament series called the India Poker Championship, it became clear that poker as a sport was growing in the country. There were new faces coming to every edition we did and each edition kept breaking attendance records. However, accommodating more players beyond a point, would have proved to be problematic as there are only a finite amount on Goa's casino ships. So came the thought of taking this online and that's when the seed of Spartan Poker was planted in late 2013 and we launched operations in mid-2014.
What were the challenges you had to face while setting up Spartan Poker?
Rozani: Apart from the usual challenges of getting a start-up going, we knew there were two fronts we had to really work hard on. Firstly, to build our base of players and secondly, providing the best possible value offerings to players. The two go hand-in-hand and, even today they continue to be primary drivers for Spartan's journey in this industry.
Tell us something about India Poker Championship (IPC)? How did it materialise?
Rozani: The IPC was started by my partners Sameer Rattonsey and Peter Abraham back in 2010. A couple of years later, they connected with me and Rajeev Kanjani, the fourth member of this team. We found plenty of common ground in our thoughts of where we want to be in this nascent industry, how we wish to grow and help the sport/industry grow as well. Between the four of us, we had a ton of experience in the live poker arena and we used all of that to improve the player experience at our events.
What is your vision for Spartan Poker? Where does it stand at present?
Rozani: Our roots lie in poker so naturally… we want to be the biggest and best brand for this game in India. We're on the right path ranked second among all the Indian platforms and globally we are at No.20. In the years to come, we want Spartan to be an overall gaming brand which has an Asian followed by global presence.
What is the scope of online poker in India? Where does the industry stand at present and how much potential does it have to grow in future?
Rozani: The scope is tremendous! Smartphone penetration in this country is growing at a fast pace and is the primary driver for the growing real money gaming industry. Affordable smartphones backed by cheap data plans are changing the way Indians consume their entertainment. It is estimated that India has roughly 400 million smartphone users which keep growing, so this has a direct correlation with the scope and growth of the online poker industry in this country. A recent report by KPMG suggests that the online gaming industry will touch $1 billion in a couple of years, which is pretty incredible for what is essentially a very young industry. There is major potential for growth in the future and if there are improved regulations, this growth could be explosive.
What are the hurdles in Indian poker industry?
Rozani: In live poker and online as well, taxation is one of the biggest issues being faced. The domestic live poker scene slowed down to a virtual halt a few years ago because of TDS. Brands like IPC have made a return this year and record attendance numbers prove that the game is even more popular than before. However, some regulation on the TDS front will certainly ease the hurt and help blossom the growth of the sport in India.
What are the myths surrounding poker?
Rozani: The number one myth that persists is that poker is all about luck or is pure gambling. Nothing could be further from the truth. In the short term, anything could happen but in the long term, good players will always come out on top. This is a game that requires a great deal of mental acuity, logic and even people reading skills.