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Recap: Important deals of 2018 and what the gaming industry can expect in 2019

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Consolidation of the online gaming industry was the trend in 2018 and the year saw quite a few M&A transactions happening, particularly in the online skill gaming space, although there weren’t too many updates on the legal and regulatory front, with important cases that will decide the future of poker in Gujarat and rummy/skill games in Telangana getting stalled.

Here is a recap of some of the important deals that happened in 2018:

1.  PokerStars starts India website with Sugal & Damani Group: Canada-based The Stars Group granted an exclusive license to Sachiko Gaming Private Limited, a company connected to the lottery conglomerate Sugal & Damani Group to start an India website, pokerstars.in in April 2018. Although the PokerStars India website has not yet gathered as much momentum as one would have expected,  it is expected that Sachiko Gaming will ramp up their marketing spends, by spending over Rs.20-30 crores in the next couple of years, in an attempt to take the new website to the leadership position in online poker.

2. Dream11 raises around US$100 million in a Series D round led by Tencent Holdings: Leading online fantasy sports portal Dream11 raised around US$100 million (around Rs. 700 crores) in a Series D round. The round was led by Chinese gaming and e-commerce giant Tencent Holdings and other existing investors of the company. The deal will fund Dream11’s aggressive media campaigns and tie-ups with sports federations across cricket, hockey, kabbadi, football and other sports. The massive infusion of capital will probably make it almost impossible to dislodge Dream11 from the market leader’s position in the fantasy sports space.

3. 9stacks raises Rs. 28 crores in Series A round: Sparskills Technologies Private Limited, the company that operates online poker website 9stacks, became one of the few gaming websites in the country to raise a Series A funding round. The company raised around Rs. 28 crores in two tranches, in the funding round led by VC firm WaterBridge Ventures and other existing angel investors.

4. Sequoia Capital invests in skill gaming and e-sports startup MPL: Another interesting transaction in the real money skill gaming space was Sequoia Capital’s US$5 million (around Rs.35.1 crore) investment in Mobile Premier League (MPL), an app that allows players to play real-money tournaments of casual and strategy games like fruit chop, monster truck, space breaker, sudoku etc.

5. Patym forms JV for skill-gaming venture: Another interesting trend in 2018 was the joint venture formed by Indian payment and shopping giant Paytm with Alibaba-backed Chinese technology company AGTech Holdings. The two companies have formed Gamepind, a real money quiz gaming website and app. The two companies have infused around US$16 million (over Rs. 100 crores) in the new venture, with indications that the new company Gamepind will also foray into other conventional skill games like poker and rummy.

Apart from the above, there were several other companies that forayed into the online poker and fantasy sports space, as well as other innovative games like quiz and esports.

Looking ahead into 2019, one can expect this trend to continue and more ventures in the social and skill gaming space. It should not surprise anyone if this trend will continue into the next year and new, innovative type of skill games will gain popularity.

The coming year would also hopefully see resolution of the pending matters in the Gujarat and Telangana High Courts on poker and rummy respectively that would give more clarity to the skill gaming industry. The debate on the merits of the legalisation of sports betting and other types of online gaming at a central level will also gain momentum, especially after Congress MP Shashi Tharoor’s private member’s bill on the subject. The second half of 2019, after the Lok Sabha election, could see some further movement on the topic.

Jay has researched extensively on gaming laws and has been cited by various media houses and journals as an expert. He has helped leading newspapers in their stories on gaming laws. Jay completed his B.A. LL.B. (Hons.) degree from NUJS, Kolkata in 2015 and is currently based out of Mumbai.

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