Apps hit the jackpot with online Tambola

Forum Gandhi Mumbai | Updated on July 12, 2020 Published on July 12, 2020

Daily transactions snowball as more people take a chance on the numbers game

Every afternoon, for the past three months, 33-year old Naina Shah* has been sitting down with a pen, paper, ruler and her smartphone. On the sheet is a table of nine columns and three rows in which random boxes are filled with 15 numbers between 1-90. Shah stares endlessly at her mobile phone screen waiting for one of the 15 numbers on her sheet to be called out.

Shah is one among lakhs of Indians who have got addicted to online Tambola during the lockdown.

A ticket to fun

The popular club and party game also known as Housie has led to considerable sums of money changing hands every day. What was once an innocuous weekend pastime has become an intense daily affair with rising stakes.

Delhi-based Sanjiv Kataria, a veteran marketing and communications professional, and his wife have been playing the game with 20 known people in a closed Zoom call ever since lockdown began. Kataria uses an app to generate tambola tickets.

“Each ticket costs me ₹200. We buy two such tickets. But one ticket has to have the number 13, as my wife thinks it is her lucky number. Obviously, she realised that it didn’t do much for her,” he quips, though he admits they have seldom lost much. The group has played over 100 such games. “It’s a fun way to be far, yet close to your family members and friends,” says Kataria.

Forty-three year-old housewife Anika Munyal says the game leaves her exhilarated. “I always win at least one variation. I have been playing Tambola virtually at least four to five times a week,” she says. Munyal says she has been favoured by fortune and once won ₹5,000 in one session.

For Shah, initially the game was a mood lightener but earlier this week when she found herself in the red to the tune of ₹7,000, she quit altogether. But everytime a person exits, there are 10 more joining.

Snowballing growth

Manav Sethi, CMO of Octro, a mobile gaming company, which had launched the Tambola app in 2014, says from a monthly user growth of 50 times it has seen a 200 per cent growth in its users in the last four months. The app has over 1,000,000 plus installs.

Literally every Tambola app generator — be it Tambola Fun or Tambola Generator — is witnessing growth. Businessman Raj Kunda’s Viaan Gaming launched Housie Quiz in February has picked up users instantly.

For Octro, the growth in users has led to spin off benefits as it has led to interest amongst third-party advertisers. Another revenue generator is in-app products sales, with items ranging between ₹10 and ₹7,500.

Stakes get higher

Although Housie is perceived as a harmless social game, on app stores it is categorised under the gambling and contests section. With rising popularity the stakes are getting higher. It’s not just participants who occasionally get windfalls, coordinators are cashing in as well.

Take the Andhra Pradesh-based P&M Family and Friends Tambola group where prizes sometimes are to the tune of ₹3.11 lakh. The jackpot is anywhere between ₹21,000 and ₹35,000.

The administrators charge a commission. An admin BusinessLine spoke to explained, “We make it very clear to our customers that we will have at least a 10-15 per cent commission as we are putting in a lot of effort. We have to buy the tickets, make posters, scout for people.” On average, the admins make around ₹7,000-8,000 per game.

Is all this legal? Sunil Krishnamurthy, an expert on the online gaming industry, says chance-based games are not well regulated in India whereas skill-based games like poker are. He also feels it is tough to regulate when played on WhatsApp or Zoom.

Girish Menon, Partner and Head - Media and Entertainment, KPMG, says, those transacting via UPI-based app must be careful with the amount of money transacted. He also cautions against playing against unknown groups to avoid fraud.

“Until one is transacting from a well-rated app where the money is transacted in a legal manner or via a known person, it should be avoided,” he says.

Krishnamurthy also fears that it is possible to fix the algorithms of the ticket generators. Indeed, Kataria points to one session where a bug led to the same flow of numbers being generated for everyone. Wherever Dame Fortune is involved, there is always a risk.

(*The name has been changed to protect identity.)

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Published on July 12, 2020
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