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PokerStars India to Launch April 17 with Segregated Player Pool

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  • Beginning April 16, Indian poker players will no longer have access to games on the PokerStars.com client.

PokerStars will be closing its global dot-com online poker room in India in exchange for a local PokerStars India version, the company announced in a fourth quarter and full year meeting with investors last week.

A message on the client informed players that the dot-com site will no longer be available in India starting on April 16, while the new PokerStars.IN operated by Sachiko Gaming Private Limited will launch on April 17. The change means a shift to a segregated player pool for India’s players, and wagers denominated in rupees.

“In India, we have entered into an arrangement with a well-established domestic licensed lottery and gaming operator, which will give our brand access to this highly populated market and ability to build awareness for both our PokerStars brand and the game itself,” The Stars Group CEO Rafi Ashkenazi told investors.

“We anticipate the brand being launched in the second quarter initially on the ring-fenced basis but believe it will take a few years for the business to reach profitability and for us to receive noticeable license fees," the company added.

Road to Local India Launch

GLaws.in reported earlier this month that Sachiko is an offshoot of online skill games company Sachar Gaming, connected to lottery conglomerate Sugal and Damani Group. The Sugal and Damani group reportedly operates skill game websites under the brand Khelplay.com, but had announced they would shut down these operations by March 15, seemingly to make way for PokerStars.IN.

According to PokerIndustryPro ($), Khelplay acquired a multi-games license back in March 2017 from the country’s first jurisdiction offering online poker licenses to local firms, Nagaland. The license covered skill games including poker and fantasy sports, and still appeared to be in operation as of last week.

The local PokerStars launch in India has been a long time coming, starting in 2016 with an announcement by then-CEO David Baazov to investors that they intended to operate in India. Ashknazi took the reigns and aimed for an early 2017 launch, which got pushed back to the upcoming Q2 2018 initiation.

Aditya Argawal became the first PokerStars Team Pro from India more than three years ago, providing one of the first indications of future intentions for the Stars Group to expand there.

India is fast becoming a hotbed of poker action, with big-name poker companies taking notice. The Global Poker League India launched in 2017, bringing on top Indian poker pro Nipun Java as a brand ambassador. The WPTDeepStacks held an event in India in November 2017, and the introduction of PokerNews India was just made in January by Indian poker pro Muskan Sethi.

Some of the competition PokerStars.IN can expect will come from online poker sites already in operation in India, including Adda52.com, Spartan Poker, Khelo365, PokerBaazi, PokaBunga and MPN India, Pro reports. The same article mentions that industry monitor GameIntel estimates traffic at these sites at 800 concurrent cash games seats, representing a market more than twice the size of New Jersey, Nevada and Delaware combined.

While the local PokerStars version will hope to grasp a large chunk of the Indian market, players in India who previously enjoyed much larger shared player pools on the dot-com client may be left wanting in terms of the massive prize pools of old.

The Stars Group is a majority shareholder in iBus Media

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