Legalising betting and online real money games in India is being debated for long and arguments are evenly poised for and against it. While Europe has always been ahead on legalising and regulating real money games; India, China and the US are trudging with caution.
But in the last few years, things have changed very rapidly. In India, while rummy continues to dominate the online gaming space, fantasy cricket has also emerged as a major source of entertainment for millions of people across the country.
There are several card games which are played online for money and their legality is still unclear. Some of them, including online rummy, are legal to play; for a few games, judgments are pending (neither legal nor illegal) and some are considered as illegal but are not banned and are played by wide audiences.
In India games of skill are allowed by law but are not regulated. And this is what sets India apart from the US — the lack of movement from the government to regulate them.
Taking into account the growing popularity of online money games, The Rummy Federation (TRF) was founded in December 2017, an initiative “to make this rapidly growing industry to grow responsibly”. TRF is going to spend real dollars from company bottom line and bring in experts from outside to help regulate the players and the industry.
Ankush Gera, Founder and CEO, Junglee Games, the brain behind the TRF, thinks: “While this movement has started with rummy it’s only a matter of time before other skill gaming operators adopt it also, and when the government legalises and regulates any kind of gaming, they would already have a template for regulations from us.”
He said that eventually the government will legalise all types of real money games, not just games of skill like Rummy, and that will be the right/safer thing to do in comparison to allowing all the illegal and unsafe sports betting that takes place.
“For example the US has legalised fantasy sports and is currently regulating and legalising sports betting in the US. Hopefully the Indian government will also get past the moral/taboo issues and come around to understand that regulation makes things safe, not the other way around. Anyone who wants to bet on sports today, finds a way to do so. If done properly, regulation can be an amazing thing and implement new safety standards that benefit the industry, the players and the government,” Gera said.
On the taboo attached to card games that involve money, Gera said: “Gambling is a taboo in our society and in most of the world. But Rummy is largely seen as a family fun game for entertainment, handed down generations from grandparents to grandchildren and even though a very tiny percentage of the world plays it for real money, it has a clear line separating it from games of chance that constitute ‘gambling’.”
On the prospects of the industry, he said it is booming and growing at 40-50% year on year and sits at roughly Rs 1,000 crore per year. “In comparison to Europe, this is extremely small. The European gaming market is worth Rs 1-lakh crores per year. So it is 100x bigger than India,” he said.
On his venture Junglee Games, Gera said: “As a technology startup, we’re growing at 50-100% year on year and are profitable without raising or burning a ton of outside capital, makes us extremely satisfied. We’re an outlier in the Indian technology startup ecosystem. However, we’ve only scratched the tip of the iceberg and are excited to build value in the gaming ecosystem over the long run.”
“As far as Junglee goes, we have some exciting games we’ll be launching in the near future so we can’t comment on them quite yet.”
“Regarding projects related to my portfolio, Junglee is keeping me fairly occupied but there are a few projects both in India and the US, from retail/hospitality, enterprise software, robotics/AI, where I’ve invested personally and working directly with the founders on scaling. Building my own business is exciting but being able to support other founders and see them succeed adds to the excitement,” he said.