AIGF releases new report on benefits of digital gaming

The All India Gaming Federation (AIGF) launched an industry report ‘Online Games: A tool for learning & development’ at a launch event in New Delhi yesterday. The report highlights experts’ opinions on the positives of digital gaming and benefits of better hand-eye coordination, reduction of stress and anxiety, team building, improvement in decision making skills etc.

The industry report contains testimonials on the benefits of esports for learning and development from experts such as Ankur Diwakar-South Asian competitive esports champion; Fatima Agarkar- leading educationist; Dr. Sanju George- mental health expert; Dr. Divya Jain- mental health expert and Dr. Ishita Pateria- Counselling Psychologist.

Launching the report Rajya Sabha Member of Parliament and Olympic Medallist, Mary Kom said, “While the conventional thinking is to categorise all forms of digital gaming as harmful, careful research and analysis indicates that there are many positives that accrue from Digital Sports Gaming. In today’s time, with the growing digital infrastructure, eSports can reach out to an innumerable set of people in different cities who do not have a proper sporting infrastructure and provide them with a platform to showcase their skills.”

She further added, “It is needless to mention that all gamers need to be cautioned against the overuse of online games at the expense of other physical activities.”

The report launch was followed by a panel discussion wherein experts like Fatima Agarkar (Leading Educationist & Founder – KA Edu Associates), Ishita Pateria (Counselling Psychologist & Founder – State of Mind) Lokmanyu Chaturvedi (Pro Gamer),  and Dibyojyoti Mainak (General Counsel, Mobile Premier League) gave insights on advantages of digital sport games, gaming methodologies used in teaching,  enhancement of life skills, mental aptitude, lowers stress, better hand – eye coordination, critical thinking and  psyschosocial skills through gaming etc.

Expressing his views, the moderator of the panel discussion, AIGF CEO Roland Landers said, “The proliferation of digital infrastructure, high-speed internet and growing technology have led to a tremendous growth in the online gaming industry. There are an estimated 300 million mobile gamers in India. The number of digital gaming companies has also seen a rapid rise. In digital sports gaming players like Mobile Premier League (MPL) and First Games from the Paytm stable taking the lead in driving growth in this sector.”


India Game Developers Conference to be held in Hyderabad on 22-23 November

The 11th edition of the India Game Developers Conference (IGDC), supported by the Government of Telangana and tech industry body NASSCOM is scheduled to be held at the Hyderabad International Convention Centre in Telangana on 22nd and 23rd November, 2019.

The flagship event is expected to showcase the latest developments in the game industry of the Indian subcontinent and debate new trends.

The two-day event, beginning on November 22, will also discuss the inventiveness in the functions and contents in the digital entertainment industry in India.

The organisers stated the IGDC continued to attract big attention from global gaming studios, developers and gaming enterprises.

IGDC will host more than 3,000 industry professionals and 200 industry expert speakers, major tracks and will feature 10 major events, 200 expo stalls, 25 publishers and 25 investors. It will also host an exhibit for games companies across India, including their popular IGDC Awards ceremony in seven categories.

“The industry is maturing and we believe IGDC continues to be the must-attend conference to catch the latest trends, market intelligence, success stories, upskill with great talks and workshops, meet investors and of course everyone in the Indian gaming ecosystem will be there, presenting excellent networking opportunities,” said Rajesh Rao, Chairperson, India Game Developer Conference and Founder and former CEO of Dhruva Interactive.

The congregation will build, consolidate and further game advancements, smart entertainment software and hardware animation, comic, internet e-Sports, new-age entertainment and other digital entertainment in India, and establish itself as a trend indicator for the gaming ecosystem and digital entertainment industry in India.

Among the big takeaways for the participants this year will be Android, Augmented Reality, iOS, PC, Steam, Virtual Reality, and Windows gaming and development and new trends.

According to a KPMG report, esports and gaming are expected to add revenues of over $1 billion by 2021, growing at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 22 per cent.

Locally developed games picked up big numbers of daily active users. Designing and exporting games too hold a great promise with an estimated annual global market of $1.7 billion within a few years, the organisers said in a press release.


Poker pros lambast Adda52 for flawed TDS policy

A bunch of professional poker players led by Raghav Bansal and Raman Gujral have urged regular players to boycott participating on Adda52 tournaments due to their apparently flawed Tax Deduction at Source (TDS) policies, which ensures that no player can make a profit in the long term.

Last week, Bansal, in a Facebook post on 3700 members strong players forum, The Players Group (TPG), highlighted that apart from Adda52, all other websites deducted TDS only on net winnings on tournaments. He stated, “Lately we have seen most major sites come up with improved Tax policies helping players pay tax on their net winnings and as a result keeping more money in the poker system except Adda52 who have for some reason never bothered to revise their MTT tax policy leading to players paying way too much than they are supposed to.

With the current policy, every tournament we play has around 32% deducted from the prize pool for every tournament which can never be recovered. Its effectively like 32% rake in every tourney from a player’s perspective. I have been playing poker for a long time and I guarantee you that no good foreign reg that you respect would be playing in these tournaments. It’s beyond ridiculous.”

Bansal further urged the poker community to boycott the tournaments hosted by Adda52 on Sunday, 11th August.

According to PokerGuru, Adda52 could not fulfill its guarantees in its tournaments on Sunday, due to the players boycott, with the Mega Suits tournament logging in 502 entries and the Big Slick tournament getting 669 entries, both substantially less than the entries registered for the tournaments in previous weeks.

According to Gujral and other poker pros, the Adda52 management has invited players representatives for a dialogue day before yesterday, but none of them could reach due to the short notice.

Gujral and other players promised to continue with the boycott of Adda52 until the management is able to find a solution to the TDS woes.

According to Section 194B of the Income Tax Act, TDS as per rates in force is to be deducted on any winnings from card games exceeding Rs. 10,000. The provision does not stipulate as to how winnings have to be calculated and whether set-off of losses in winnings on other tournaments or games is permitted, leading to different websites following different interpretations on the deduction of withholding tax.

Some gaming websites, through offers and promotions offer to bear the brunt of the TDS and deposit part or whole of the TDS due on tournament winnings from their own pocket, without deducting them from the players’ winnings.


Paytm First Games to receive $25 million funding: Report

Alibaba Group and One97 Communications Limited backed Paytm First Games (earlier known as Gamepind) is reportedly in talks to raise US$25 million in a fresh funding round that will be led by venture capital firm SAIF partners and an unknown Hong Kong based entity.

In May this year, the company had announced that it had surpassed 30 million registered users on its platform and planned to raise $30 million in a funding round. Last year, Paytm and Alibaba had jointly infused $16 million in the gaming company.

When Sudhanshu Gupta, Chief Operating Officer (COO) of Paytm First Games was contacted by Times of India for a confirmation of the above news, he declined to confirm the development.

Gupta however noted that Paytm First Games has grown manifold in the last one year and has garnered over 30 million registered users. He noted that on an average users spend around Rs. 4,000 per month on the game of rummy and Rs. 400 per month on fantasy sports.

He also stated that the company is clocking around US$ 50 million in revenue, with the focus in the near future being on investing in its technology and hosting e-sports events.Gupta stated that Gamepind is looking to double its team size from the current number of 150.

Paytm First Games offers casual games such as ludo, snake wars, badlands, 8 ball pool as well as skill games such as rummy, fantasy sports, trivia and live quiz on its platform as well as on the Paytm app.

Gaming Legal & Regulatory

Andhra Pradesh MLA calls for banning online rummy

After Chief Minister YS Jaganmohan Reddy’s assertion last month about banning online rummy in Andhra Pradesh, an MLA belonging to the ruling YSR Congress Party raised the issue of online rummy and its perils in the ongoing session of the legislative assembly of the state.

Malladi Vishnu, a YSR Congress Party MLA while speaking in the house mentioned that many families are being disturbed due to online rummy and that he was receiving requests from various people to bring a strict law against online gambling and rummy.

He further urged the government to seriously consider strict action against online rummy websites.

The speaker presiding over the legislative assembly called upon the concerned minister to reply to Vishnu’s suggestion. Since the minister concerned, i.e. the Home Minister was not present in the House, the Deputy Chief Minister responded saying he had noted down the request made by Vishnu.

Last month, it was reported that the state’s Minister for Tourism, Culture and Youth Advancement, Muttamsetti Srinivasa Rao alias Avanthi Srinivas had raised the issue of online rummy and gaming spoiling the lives of many educated as well as unemployed youth and demanded a ban on online rummy, at a conference of District Collectors and Superintendents of Police in the presence of Chief Minister Reddy.

On being told by the state’s Director General of Police (DGP) that, at present, Andhra Pradesh does not have any specific legislation against online rummy, Reddy reportedly stated that the state government will soon introduce a new law to ban online rummy.


Real money gaming platform WinZo secures $5 million Series A funding

Real money skill gaming platform, WinZo, which just last week announced a US$1.5 million fund to encourage local game developers, has announced that it has secured US$5 million in a Series A funding round led by Kalaari Capital and Hike Messenger.

“WinZO’s social multi-player skill gaming platform is a one-stop entertainment destination for Bharat. We have been receiving phenomenal traction, and are very excited to emerge as India’s most loved household brand for the next 100 million users,” said Paavan Nanda, the company’s CEO and co-founder in a statement.

“WinZO’s team has achieved a strong product market fit and is all set to disrupt the vernacular entertainment space. We led company’s seed round early last year, and are highly impressed with the team’s growth trajectory and strong execution,” said Rahul Garg, Principal, Kalaari Capital. 

Kalaari Capital, which has also backed India’s biggest fantasy sports website Dream11, had also participated in a seed funding round of WinZo.

Founded as a trivia quiz app two years ago by Zo Rooms and Zostel co-founder Paavan Nanda and Saumya Singh Rathore two years ago, WinZo Games (earlier known as TicTok Games) offers more than 30 real money skill games including fantasy sports, space warrior, quizzes, carrom, virtual cricket, virtual basketball etc. on its app-based platform in ten languages, namely English, Hindi, Bangla, Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, Gujarati, Marathi, Punjabi, and Bhojpuri.

The company claims to have garnered more than seven million registered users till date and has set an ambitious target of crossing the 100 million registered users mark in the near future.


Baazi Group announces PokerBaazi Live room at Pride 2 casino in Goa

Leading online poker site PokerBaazi has announced that it will be operating a poker room in partnership with the Pride Group of casinos. The new card room, christened as the ‘PokerBaazi Live Room’, will be operating on Level 2 of the new Casino Pride 2 offshore casino vessel in Goa.

For this venture, Baazi has tied up with Madhav Gupta, who operates online poker website Baadshah Gaming and has been associated with Pride 1 casino’s poker room for a long time.

It is understood, that as part of the arrangement, Gupta will cease operating the poker room at the Pride 1 casino and will instead, collaborate with PokerBaazi for the poker room in the Pride 2 vessel.

Commenting on the announcement, PokerBaazi CEO Navkiran Singh noted, “I want to bring the same levels of excitement for players to enjoy the game in the live circuit, as they have been doing online. Plus, we have Maddy (Madhav Gupta) aka ‘Goa ka Daddy’ on board which only makes this all the more exciting and fun! We are thrilled to be launching the PokerBaazi LIVE room aboard the new Pride 2 ship – which is truly a spectacular venue. Players can definitely expect some big live events over the next year or so.”

Gupta added, “I am very excited to announce what I feel will be the next catalyst for Indian Poker. The pride poker room has been a pet project of mine for the last decade and I believe that with the combination of India’s premier poker site and our years of great service live we can extend the goalpost of what will be offered to players.”

PokerBaazi has stated that it will be announcing cash game festivals and international tournament series onboard the Pride 2 casino in the coming few months.

Read more about offline and online poker in India.

Legal & Regulatory

Will a 2010 CERT decision to not block Betfair aid Delhi HC in the anti-betting PIL?

A Public Interest Litigation (PIL) filed in the Delhi High Court by social activist Avinash Mehrotra last month, seeking banning of offshore online betting and Indian online poker websites has lead to much debate and speculation about whether the Indian government will crackdown on offshore betting websites that are available to Indian citizens.

The Delhi High Court in its order on 29th May issued notice to the central government and RBI, and listed the matter for hearing on 31st July, by which time it ordered that all counter-affidavits and rejoinders are to be filed.

Mehrotra in his petition has stated that the respondent (Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology)t should block illegal gambling websites, including BetRally, Betway and Dafabet from being accessed in India under Sections 67 and 69A of the Information Technology Act, 2000.

Interestingly however, the Bombay High Court addressed the issue of online betting website Betfair being available in India in its order in Abbas Shaikh v. Union of India & Others in 2010.

The court in its order dated 10th March, 2010, noted that the state of Maharashtra had written to the Director of the Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT), Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology, seeking blocking of and asked the CERT to take action in accordance with law within three months.

As per a response given by the IT Ministry to a Right to Information (RTI) query filed by activist Pranesh Prakash, the CERT-IN did meet on 24th August, 2010 to discuss blocking of the website Betfair on grounds of public order, but noted that no details suggesting the impact of the website on public order has been given by the state of Maharashtra.

The CERT-IN consequently rejected the demand to direct blocking of Betfair. (Interestingly though Betfair ceased accepting customers from India earlier this year and the website is no longer accessible from Indian IP addresses).

It remains to be seen whether the Information Technology Ministry and CERT-IN will also state in the Delhi High Court like it did in its 2010 meeting that online betting websites cannot be blocked under the grounds of ‘public order’.

The CERT and IT ministry could however react differently in 2019 due to the provision in the Information Technology (Intermediaries Guidelines) Rules, 2011 (these rules had not come into force when the CERT decided the Betfair issue in 2010), which require intermediaries like ISPs, search engines and hosting providers to not transmit any content, inter alia, ‘relating to or encouraging gambling’ and disable such content within 36 hours of it being brought to their notice.

Read more about gambling laws in India.

Legal & Regulatory

Bombay HC rules fantasy sports to be a game of skill, approves Dream11’s format and manner of payment of GST

A division bench of the Bombay High Court comprising of Justices Bharati H. Dangre and Ranjit More in a recent Public Interest Litigation (PIL) filed by one Gurdeep Singh Sachar, ruled that the daily fantasy sports games offered by Dream11 depends upon the user’s skill and judgment and is undoubtedly a game of skill.

The PIL was filed by Sachar, a Mumbai-based resident, who claimed that fantasy games are luring people to play games of chance through their hard earned money and are amount to different forms of gambling.

Sachar further contended that Dream11 was allegedly evading Goods & Services Tax (GST) by violating Rule 31A of the Central GST Rules and not paying 28% GST on the total value of deposits.

The court in its judgment dated 30th April, 2019 rejected both the contentions made by Singh.

In its order in Gurdeep Singh Sachar v. Union of India & Others, Justice Ranjit More, speaking on behalf of the bench noted that the Punjab and Haryana High Court in its 2017 order of Varun Gumber v. Union Territory of Chandigarh has already held, after detailed examination, that activities conducted by Dream11 do not amount to gambling.

The court also referred to the fact that Gumber filed a Special Leave Petition (SLP) in the Supreme Court against the order of the Punjab and Haryana High Court which was dismissed.

The order further mentions that the Supreme Court order of Dr. KR Lakshmanan v. State of Tamil Nadu & Another, which held that games involving a substantial degree of skill fall outside the definition of gaming and gambling, has been relied upon by the Punjab and Haryana High Court in its 2017 order.

The Bombay High Court subsequently notes that the view it has taken is not different from the reasoning of the Punjab and Haryana High Court. The court observed:

There is no merit in the submission that the result of their fantasy game/contest shall be considered as merely by chance or accident notwithstanding involvement of substantial skill. The petitioner claims that the result would depend largely on extraneous factors such as, who amongst the players actually play better in the real game on a particular day, which according to the petitioner would be a matter of chance, howsoever skillful a participant player in the online fantasy game may be. The petitioner has lost sight of the fact that the result of the fantasy game contest on the platform of respondent No.3, is not at all dependent on winning or losing of any particular team in the real world game. Thus, no betting or gambling is involved in their fantasy games. Their result is not dependent upon winning or losing of any particular team in real world on any given day.

On the issue of alleged GST evasion, the court noted that Rule31A of the Central GST rules applied only to ‘gambling’ or ‘betting’ services, where 28% GST is payable on the face value of the bets.

The court referred to Schedule III of the Central Goods and Services Act, 2017 which states that ‘actionable claims, other than lottery, gambling and betting’ are excluded from the scope of supply.

The court reasoned that the amounts pooled by the players for entering a contest in the escrow account of the company is an actionable claim that is to be distributed to the winning players and consequently can neither be considered as supply of goods or supply or services and is thus excluded from the definition of supply.

On the issue of rate at which the GST has to be charged, the court noted that under entry code 998439 (other online content n.e.c.), explanatory notes suggest that role-playing games, strategy games, action games, card games and children’s games etc. are covered under this category, which would also cover Dream11’s format and fantasy sports gaming, for which 18% GST is applicable.

The court in its concluding remarks while dismissing Sachar’s PIL observed:

It is seen that the entire case of the Petitioner is wholly untenable, misconceived and without any merit. It can be seen that success in Dream11’s fantasy sports depends upon user’s exercise of skill based on superior knowledge, judgment and attention, and the result thereof is not dependent on the winning or losing of a particular team in the real world game on any particular day. It is undoubtedly a game of skill and not a game of chance. The attempt to reopen the issues decided by the Punjab and Haryana High Court in respect of the same online gaming activities, which are backed by a judgment of the three judges bench of the Apex Court in K. R. Lakshmanan (supra), that too, after dismissal of SLP by the Apex Court is wholly misconceived.

Read more about betting and gambling laws in India.


Paytm-backed Gamepind rebrands itself as FirstGames, looks to raise $30 million

Paytm-backed real money gaming platform Gamepind has decided to rebrand itself to FirstGames, as per a report in the Economic Times.

Gamepind, which is a joint venture between Paytm’s parent company One97 Communications Limited and Alibaba Group owned gaming technology provider AGTech Holdings, is also reportedly looking to raise further capital of US$30 million to expand its gaming platform and scale it with more games.

One97 Communications and AGTech had infused US$16 million in Gamepind Entertainment Private Limited last year.

Gamepind (now Paytm FirstGames) has claimed that in a short span of less than one year, it has garnered over 30 million registered users on its platform.

The company offers casual games such as ludo, snake wars, badlands, 8 bnall pool as well as skill games such as rummy, fantasy sports, trivia and live quiz on its platform as well as on the Paytm website and mobile app.

Gamepind is reportedly currently clocking Gross Merchandise Volume of Rs. 20 crore monthly, which it hopes to increase to Rs. 28-35 crores during the ongoing ICC Cricket World Cup.

Read more about Gaming business in India.