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Alibaba investing India’s gambling loopholes

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Alibaba investing India's gambling loopholes

Alibaba Group Holding, SoftBank Group and Tencent Holdings are investing hundreds of millions of dollars in Indian apps that use loopholes in anti-gambling laws – some dating to India’s colonial era – to offer bettors cash prizes, vacations to Macau and new iPhones.

Watching cricket and playing rummy are online passions for hundreds of millions of Indians, fuelling a nascent gaming industry on the verge of quadrupling its revenue. That’s attracting attention from some of Asia’s biggest Internet companies.

“India is sweetly positioned to exponentially grow the gaming industry,” said Vishal Seth, a managing director overseeing mergers and acquisitions for Protiviti India. “The online platform has a very strong outlook considering India has the world’s largest youth population and the second-largest Internet penetration.”

While e-commerce and video streaming are gaining in popularity, online gaming is considered a better business proposition because the individual transactions are immediately profitable. That’s because operators don’t have to invest much in building up logistics, inventory or content.

More than a third of India’s 1.3 billion people are Internet users, and most of that is via budget smartphones with cheap data-usage plans. Before the coronavirus outbreak crushed the global economy, the local smartphone market was growing at a 10 per cent rate.

As much as 90 per cent of gaming in India happens on phones, said Girish Menon, head of media and entertainment for KPMG in Mumbai.

“That is attractive to Alibaba and Tencent because their entire ecosystem is developed around mobile phones,” Mr Menon said. “The time spent on gaming is far higher than any other form of entertainment.”

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