The Strategic Platform for iGaming Conference and Exhibition (SPiCE) 2019, organised by Hong Kong-based events company, Eventus International from 25th-27th February, 2019 was a tour de force of networking, panels and discussions among the industry’s top players.
The event opened at the Goa Marriott Resort and Spa on 25th February with a casual “SPiCE Breaker” networking event followed by two days of talks, panel discussions and debates.
“This is a great event,” said Abhishek Shah, director of CoversionX, one of SPiCE’s sponsors.”It’s a very mixed crowd and it’s a good opportunity for us to meet many people from outside India.”
At the cocktails and dinner event the crowd not only networked, but was also treated to traditional Goan dancing and even a dance performance by the organizers and sponsors of SPiCE themselves.
“All contributors to SPiCE are excellent,” said Pariekshit M, Managing Director of SPiCE sponsor and exhibitor Grid Logic Group, parent company of SPiCE title sponsor Taj Rummy. “That’s why we have taken the lead to sponsor the show. It’s a great mix of decision makers versus people who are exploring, from domestic operators to international software providers.”
This sentiment was echoed by attendees across the board. “This is a really high quality crowd,” said Erin Urumath, account manager of Play’n Go, another sponsor of the event.
The quality of the crowd was also the draw for Networking drinks co-sponsor FashionTV Gaming Group. “SPiCE is a smaller event but it’s the exact place to be because of the quality of the people,” said Head of Media for Fashion TV Group Aviva.
After the glamour of the evening, SPiCE 2019 kicked off in earnest the following morning. The schedule was jam packed with high-priority points of discussion and coveted opportunities to make connections.
Throughout the day, speakers and audiences discussed topics ranging from regulation and legalisation, obstacles to entering the Indian market, data handling, taxation and the growth of poker in India.
“India is getting closer and closer to getting legislation and regulation in place,” said Christina Thakor-Rankin, Principal Consultant of 1710 Gaming Ltd and chairperson of SPiCE 2019. “At the moment we have a number of different groups. You need to pull together and start coming up with a game plan. Start working with the right people and get things going.”
The case for legalization and regulation was a reoccurring theme throughout the day. “Regulated businesses tend to partner with other regulated businesses,” explained Alderney eGambling CEO Susan O’Leary. “There are interesting opportunities for international businesses to partner with Indian companies, but they need to be regulated.”
The day finished with the “SPiCE It Up” poker tournament aboard the Deltin Royale casino anchored on the River Mandovi.
On 27th February, the third and final day of the event, discussions focused on self-regulation, structuring of gaming businesses and fantasy sports.
“In the absence of government regulation, self regulation becomes paramount to the investor,” explained Zain Pandit, Principal Associate at J. Sagar Associates. “The void created by the current lack of regulation needs to be filled by the sector itself.”
Tom Russel, general counsel at Genius Sports Group emphasized the need for sports betting regulation in particular, explaining that creation of tax revenue, protection of consumers and protection of sports integrity are important drivers for such regulation.
“Transparent, fair and unpredictable competition is key to the sports betting industry,” he said.
“I’m very positive and very excited about fantasy gaming,” said Nostragamus CEO Yashashvi Takallapalli, adding that in India, more and more of its over one billion people are coming online, providing much potential for growth in the online market.
As with other sectors of the gaming, betting and gambling industry, education is critical in order to eradicate misconceptions and improve the industry’s image.“We have a collective responsibility to educate policy makers in India,” said Ankush Gera, founder of Junglee Games.
Poker consultant and commentator Aditya Wadhwani elaborated on the the limits of Indian players being able to compete in the international market because of slow connectivity in India. “As soon as they step outside, into Southeast Asia, let alone the rest of the world, they are getting crushed,” he said.
“Our developers are catching up to the quality that has existed in the West for decades,” said Junglee Games’s Gera. This is a positive development. “A homegrown industry is now becoming a possibility,” he said.
Despite the challenges, optimism about the future prevails, not least of all because of the sheer size of the Indian market and the untapped potential it holds.
“There is a significant risk of things going backward,” said SPiCE chairperson Christina Thakor-Rankin, alluding to recent decision of the Kerala High Court on playing rummy for stakes. “But there is also tremendous opportunity.”
SPiCE 2019 concluded with the Table Talk Networking Dinner during which featured speaker Ankush Gera discussed the opportunities and challenges in the South Asian casino and gaming industry from an investor’s perspective.
The organisers have announced that the third edition of the event will be held once again in Goa on 27th and 28th February, 2020 in Goa.