Players have been cautious in this period: Sameer Barde, The Online Rummy Federation

Sameer Barde, CEO, The Online Rummy Federation says regulating the industry will bring in stability which will help industry investments and scale

e4m by Dipali Banka
Updated: Aug 11, 2020 8:18 AM
Sameer Barde

The Rummy Federation (TRF), the self-regulatory body for the online rummy industry in the country, changed its corporate name to The Online Rummy Federation (TORF) and unveiled its new brand identity in June. The rebranding has been a part of the organisation’s vision to build a comprehensive self-regulatory ecosystem for online rummy operators, a game of skill, which is gaining popularity in its online avatar across the country.

The industry with the size of around Rs. 3,000 crore is growing at a CAGR of 22-25%. There are around 16-18 operators that offer Online Rummy game. In terms of the number of players, there would be around 5 to 6 million people who play Online Rummy, out of which 8-10 lakh would be playing fairly regularly. 94% of these players actually play for free. Only 5-6% of players actually play for real money. The operators earn a commission between 8-12% of the table (game money).

We speak with Sameer Barde, CEO, The Online Rummy Federation about the steps that the regulator body is taking to bring stability in the industry and the way forward

 Online, especially mobile gaming has seen a massive surge during the lockdown and post lockdown period. How has the scenario changed the dynamics of the Online Rummy industry?

Yes, there has been a fairly substantial uptick in terms of numbers. However, the numbers that have really increased have been social gamers. These are basically people who play free games for entertainment only. And this has placed unprecedented pressure on the operators because the numbers have gone up without the revenues going up.

Unlike Ludo, where you're essentially operating on advertising revenues. In the case of Rummy, it’s only if people play for money, which will actually increase an operator’s revenue. However, the infrastructure that you have to provide is the same, whether someone's playing a game for free or actual money. And to add to it, there have been operational complexities because you're operating from home now. So, actually it's been a fairly crazy and intense time period for the industry.

In fact, players have actually been cautious in this period because of the uncertain socio-economic circumstances.

What are some of the guidelines that The Online Rummy Federation (TORF) has put in place for this particular industry?

We are actually set up as a regulator for the industry. About a year and a half back we set up a Code of Conduct, essentially a self-regulatory standard. For this we looked at the regulations of other countries like the UK, US and a certain part of EU like Italy, where gaming is regulated. This Code of Conduct basically tries to achieve three things. One, it tries to ensure that the experience of the players is fair. Two, that it is safe. And three, it enables the player to play responsibly.

So one of the most key things that we do is that we ensure that underage players can’t play, which means that anyone playing for real money has to be 18 years and more. And we actually have a KYC for every player who players for real money. Apart from these, there are certain security and safety level regulations, for example, SSL level encryption, etc. Then, we mandate that player money is held in separate accounts and not used for the company’s operational purposes.

We have a very clear sort of customer complaints processes and a very clear escalation for customer complaint processes, etc. So, there are multiple requirements that we've placed to ensure that any player has transparency, fairness, security when they're playing on any of the certified operators.

There is a certain section of people in the country demanding banning of Online Rummy as many are getting addicted to it the way they do to gambling game and are losing a large amount of money. What are the steps that the organisation is taking to ensure fair play?

There are certain players who have a propensity to actually either play for too much time or play beyond their budgets. And this is something that is a cause for critical concern for us as an industry. One, of course, it gives the industry a bad name. But equally also that this is an extremely small population. So in terms of revenue, it's immaterial to us as an industry. However, it is because of this population that the industry ends with a perception that's not the best possible. And so there are multiple ways that we try and address this.

In the standard we have multiple requirements, for example, every operator must let the player define what his or her daily or monthly limit is. Also, every operator has to have an automatic mechanism by which player’s daily limit can’t be more than one-third of their monthly limit. Another feature is that where a player can self-exclude for any days that he wants. Also, once cannot create a second account.

Which regions in the country is the online rummy more prevalent?

The market is extremely skewed to the West and the South of the country. And this is more cultural than anything else. Culturally in the north, Teen Patti actually goes quite well and we have faced a lot of resistance to rummy in that sense. In the South, people have actually grown up playing rummy as a child, so the resistance is less.

What are the current challenges as a federation and the industry that you're facing?

There would be two levels of challenges, one external and one would be internal. There are about 16-18 operators in the Rummy industry at present out of these 7 are members of TORF (The Online Rummy Federation) and they cover about 99% of the market share. But there are certain operators who are not members of the federation, which are not following systems and eventually these operators tend to be the ones that give the industry a bad name.

Externally, the biggest challenge that we face is perception and lack of awareness. Most people are not aware of the fact that Rummy is actually legal and that it is a game of skill and not a game of chance. However, perception is not that way because of which we tend to do face a regulatory backlash at times. So, one of the biggest things that can be done for this industry is to regulate it. That should solve everyone's problem. It would definitely solve the industry problem because the industry is more than happy to actually be regulated.

What do you see as the way forward for the industry from here, in terms of scaling or getting more players on board, in terms of revenue, advertisement?

In terms of scaling, it would be to slowly get cultural acceptance in the rest of the country first and then the rest of the world. Currently Rummy is a very Indian phenomenon, and in that sense, there is a certain amount of recognition in the UK and the U.S., but it's not really at any sort of scale. As an industry, eventually, that's how we hope that to do.

And for that to happen, the first thing that the sector needs is to be regulated as it will automatically bring stability in terms of operating processes. Many big players like Paytm and big investment firms are getting involved in the industry. And stability, in processes, will further help the industry invest and grow bigger.

For more updates, be socially connected with us on
WhatsApp, Instagram, LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook & Youtube