Photographer: Ron Antonelli/Bloomberg

World's Largest Online Poker Company Heads for the Fastest-Growing Smartphone Market

  • PokerStars owner Amaya sees start of India operations in 2017
  • India online poker market to be $150 million over time: CEO

The world’s largest online poker company will soon enter the fastest-growing smartphone market.

PokerStars owner Amaya Inc. -- soon to be renamed The Stars Group Inc. -- plans to start services in India with a local partner by the end of this year, lured by the country’s 1.2 billion mobile users. The Montreal, Quebec-based company is aiming for at least half the Indian market, which it estimates could reach $150 million over time.

“It’s a booming country,” Chief Executive Officer Rafi Ashkenazi told reporters after an annual meeting in Montreal Wednesday, where shareholders agreed to rename the company and move its headquarters to Ontario. “We want to be there in time and we want to make sure that we are, as usual, the market leader when it comes to poker.”

The venture into India and proposed legislation that could make online poker legal in some U.S. states could help offset expected revenue loss in Australia, which Amaya will exit to comply with upcoming legal changes. While India too has a lack of legal clarity, some states have given licenses to online poker companies on classifying their products as "games of skill."

Ashkenazi said his chief operating officer is currently in India to finalize details of the agreement with the local partner, which already has a license. He didn’t name the company. The deal will give PokerStars access to all of India except "a couple" of states, Ashkenazi added.

KPMG estimates that India’s online gaming industry will more than double to $1 billion by 2021, adding 190 million gamers with the majority on mobile devices. Amaya shares have climbed 22 percent this year year as Ashkenazi focused on paying down debt, installing a new management team and growing the casino and sports betting business.

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