For a segment that stands at INR 49.8 billion and projected to grow to 61.3 billion by 2025 (a KPMG report), real money gaming in India is dangerously underregulated. Record new users have been onboarded (152 million users in just FY21) and they are spending more time than ever on leading gaming platforms (up to 4.1 hours per day) due to limited avenues of entertainment in the pandemic era. But what happens when regulators change the game? Will the gaming growth story sustain the unexpected disruption?
For the longest time, real money gaming in India has battled the shadow of gambling. That image is changing slowly with interest from reputed platforms like Dream 11 (who recently bagged the IPL sponsorship at a whopping INR 222 crores), Mobile Premier League, and BalleBaazi, as well as noted investors such as Kalaari Capital, Tiger Global Management, Think Investments, Kae Capital (fantasy gaming startups raised $180 million in funding between 2014-2020). But the Indian state governments, each of whom has independent jurisdiction on the matter, are slow or reluctant to catch up.
Most of the Indian states still operate within the ambit of the Public Gambling Act, 1867, which created a distinction between games of skill and chance. Some states, however, have completely banned these games for their potential to be addictive and harmful.
As I write this, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, and Andhra Pradesh have banned games with stakes whereas Karnataka, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan are considering such a ban. Meghalaya, Nagaland, Sikkim, and Assam, on the other hand, welcome games with real stakes. This list could change at any time in the absence of a central governing body for online gaming in India.
· Unintentional Regulatory Oversight
Keeping up with the ever-evolving state guidelines can throw a curveball at the most well-meaning gaming platforms. Even minor delays or oversight in catching up can invite heavy penalties.
· Higher Chances of Frauds Creeping In
Since all interactions in online real money games are digital and remote, the inability to build a robust and sophisticated fraud detection platform can make them a playing field for frauds like underage playing, location spoofing, money laundering, and impersonation. The current lack of clear and consistent, country-wide regulation fails to put sufficient checks against each.
· Inconsistent Player Experience
What happens when a player from Assam finds themselves in Kerala during a sports tournament that they wanted to play for stakes? The inability to access the platform because of the location not only spoils the experience for the player but also subconsciously positions real money games as ‘illegal’, an image that the sector is fighting hard to shed.
Real money gaming platforms have always used technology as a differentiator. The whole player experience on many of these platforms is wonderfully immersive, interactive, and built to hold attention and engagement. The technology edge can be extended to create flexible, transparent, compliant, and fraud-free onboarding journeys despite India’s uncertain regulatory climate. This translates to a great user onboarding and playing experience. Some of the top technologies to invest in include:
· Face match
Face match, supported by image or video KYC, makes it easy to verify a user against their submitted photo ID. This ensures that a registered user is the same as the one playing on the platform, leading to remote and hassle-free identity verification in any part of the world.
· Optical Character Recognition (OCR)
OCR helps in the identification of document tampering, separating genuine applications from fake ones. At AuthBridge, this technology once helped us identify a fake user who had applied by the name of Barack Obama along with his picture on a photo ID. OCR also automates the process of filling applications and uploading documents manually, leading to much lower account abandonment rates.
· Digital Address Verification
Digital address verification helps in discouraging location spoofing by capturing live location of a user through geo-coordinates. This becomes crucial as real money players are bound by state laws to discourage the residents of banned states from playing on their platforms.
· Database-driven NID checks
It is a legal obligation for real money gaming platforms to bar players below 18 from accessing their platforms. NID verification against Aadhaar or PAN databases helps establish the age of the player. PAN is also used for bank account verification so that any money exchange on the platform is clean and with an active account.
Despite a strong and recent push from politicians like Shashi Tharoor, policy think tanks like NITI Aayog and non-profits like All India Gaming Federation, a central infrastructure evades real money gaming. The new IT Rules 2021, against all hopes, have also failed to bring the sought-after clarity, which tells us that aggregators will have to operate in uncertainty, at least in the short run. However, to cut a pie of the projected growth—INR 62 Billion by 2025 — taking swift action to enable a seamless and consistent player onboarding experience becomes crucial. Right now, it is anyone’s game but the platforms that make timely investments in technology will certainly win the race.
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