The State of Indian Online Gambling: An Interview With Blue Iris Media CEO Fredrik Brannlund

state of indian online gambling

The Indian online gambling market is currently on everyone’s lips.

It’s one of the largest sports betting, lottery and casino markets in the world, and because of the lack of regulation, many European gaming companies are now heading south-east. Some Indian states have local laws and regulations, but India as a whole is considered a “grey market”.

However, the state of Indian online gambling, and the laws that are currently applicable are pretty unclear.

To learn more, Poker Player Newspaper had a sit-down with Fredrik Brannlund, CEO of Blue Iris Media, who is an expert within market expansion within the gambling industry.

Fredik Brannlund Blue Iris Media
Fredrik Brannlund, CEO Blue Iris Media

Why are there local poker sites in India, but all Casino sites operating from Malta & Curacao?

The answer to this lies in the Indian Gambling Laws, which in itself is an unclear subject. The laws are ambiguous. The original act – the Public Gambling Act of 1867, was used to govern gambling across India for the longest time. After the Indian Constitution came into place in 1950, some states enacted their own gambling laws while others adopted the existing Public Gambling Act, 1867. Collectively, these came to be known as the gambling laws of India.

There are three things to be noted here:

  • These laws are old and apply to gambling on physical premises only.
  • Certain games of skill like poker and rummy are excluded from the scope of these gambling laws.
  • State Governments, under the state legislation, have the authority to formulate their own gambling and betting laws.

In many Indian states, poker is considered to be a game of skill. Apex judgements have time and again made it clear that games of skill should fall outside the ambit of gambling laws in India.

Certain states like Sikkim and Nagaland have laid the groundwork and framed the necessary laws, to allow Indian poker operators to host their operations there. Together known as the Nagaland Gambling Laws and Sikkim Gaming Laws, they allow people to offer skill gaming services online under license. This is where most poker operators are based in India.

Coming to online casinos, there are no laws that explicitly state that online casinos are illegal in India. Hence, they are technically legal. Combine this with the Prevention of Money Laundering Laws and a few clauses of the IT Act, 2011, it becomes a murky grey area where nothing is explicitly clear.

Therefore, to avoid legal hassles, most online casinos operate from Malta and Curacao but cater to an Indian audience.

Which are the biggest casino sites currently in India?

Right now, there are no casinos sites operating in India. However, there are a few players who have a strong presence in the Indian market while operating from Malta and Curacao. Some of these are Jeetwin, Leovegas, and Royal Panda. You can find more information about online casinos here.

Then, you also have certain sportsbooks like Bet365 and Unibet that cater to an Indian audience while operating in the UK. They are also popular among Indian punters for the simple reason that they can enjoy sports betting and casino games at one place.

Coming to poker and rummy – the two games of skill legal across most of India, you have a lot of players like Adda52, Real Poker India, Poker Baazi, Pokerstars India, Spartan Poker, et cetera. For rummy too, there are many players like Adda52 Rummy, Rummy Villa, Junglee Rummy, Classic Rummy, and many more.

What payment methods can you use at an online casino vs poker?

While a lot of online casinos do accept Visa and MasterCards (Debit and Credit), Indian users cannot use these payment modes simply because of the Indian laws pertaining to money laundering. The Reserve Bank of India regulates all forms of electronic payments and therefore, the processing gateways will block any transaction geared towards online casinos. The same goes for bank transfer too.

In such a scenario, Indians mostly use e-wallets like Neteller and Skrill to make payments to an operator. There is no ‘direct’ connection here, making it safe and easy to use.

Coming to online poker, pretty much every form of payment is accepted since the game is legal. From mobile wallets and payment interfaces like Paytm, Google Pay, and UPI, to credit and debit cards, and bank transfers, you can deposit money with every means at your disposal.

For the average online poker player, what is his casino knowledge?

This question is a bit tricky to answer as it varies from player to player. Generally speaking, an average online poker player would have heard of casino games but may not know that much about it. Then, you may have some players who know everything there is to know about casino games, slots, et cetera.

In a country of more than 1 billion people where gambling is a booming underground market, it is hard to pinpoint who knows how much exactly. Nonetheless, it is safe to assume that an average online poker player may know a bit about casino but perhaps, not enough to confidently wager his/her money in the casino games.

The only familiarity that they may have regarding casinos may come from their experience in Goa, where land-based casinos are legal. Even then, not a lot of people would have actively pursued it as much as online poker.

How do online poker sites market themselves vs. online casinos?

Personally, we haven’t seen that many online casinos marketing themselves actively in India. You may see ad banners pop up on affiliate sites or sports blogs, but we have never seen them explicitly market their services on social media platforms. Again, the lack of legal clarity and a solid foundation may be the reason why they are not so adamant about marketing themselves here.

Plus, there are also certain laws in place which clearly forbid promoting gambling and related activities.

As for poker, given that the game is legal in India, the sites are marketed aggressively. TV campaigns, ad campaigns on Facebook, YouTube, and other social media platforms, winner stories, and similar innovative marketing gimmicks are used to draw people to their platforms. We also see famous celebrities representing these brands in a bid to attract more crowd online.

Online poker sites often rely heavily on personal experiences. Ad banners with headlines like ‘Rajesh won Rs.7 lakh in five hours! You can be next,’ or ‘Sign up for PokerXYZ now and get a welcome bonus of Rs.2,000’ are quite common on Indian social media. With all the necessary laws in place to regulate the game, there is no limit on how they can market themselves, as long as it doesn’t involve promoting gambling.

What is your prediction of the future for the casinos online?

In our opinion, we believe that the future for online casinos in India is bright. The Law Commission of India has already laid the legal framework to regulate gambling and sports betting in India. It all depends on how the government proceeds in terms of addressing this framework.

Given that it may still take a considerable amount of time before gambling becomes legal in India, for the time being, people can continue to enjoy online casinos through e-wallet payments. Given that the online gaming in India is growing at an exponential rate – expected to touch $1 billion by 2021, there is a massive potential for growth in online casinos. The future looks bright.

For the time being, we are moving in the right direction. People are becoming increasingly of responsible gambling and realize that it should be done only from the perspective of fun and not to make money. However, we still have a lot of ground to cover.