Amaya looking to India for growth

MONTREAL — Amaya has its eyes set on India as it looks to grow its online poker business.

“India is quite an exciting market,” CEO Rafi Ashkenazi told reporters Wednesday after the company’s annual meeting where shareholders approved a name change and headquarters relocation to Toronto.

Amaya will become The Stars Group in August when its TSX symbol (TSX:AYA) will also change.

It is opening a head office in downtown Toronto to complement about 300 people who work in technology development in Richmond Hill, north of the city. A small finance office will be maintained for now in Montreal.

Amaya’s chief operating officer is in India working to finalize a structure that will allow the company to operate with an already licenced partner, likely beginning later this year.

India is an attractive market because of its huge population and the penetration of smartphones that exceed the United States, Ashkenazi said.

He said Amaya hopes eventually to capture at least half of the online poker market that could reach US$150 million in a few years.

“It’s a booming country and we want to be there and we want to be there in time and make sure that we are as usual the market leader when it comes to poker.”

Ashkenazi also has his eyes set on Asia and the United States.

Online gambling is popular in Asia, but developing the right structure is key to entering a lucrative market valued at several billion dollars a year, he said.

Several political initiatives could also eventually open online gambling in large U.S. states like California, New York, Florida, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Illinois.

Poker represents a market of about US$2 billion a year in the U.S. Casino games could be worth 10 times that much for the industry.

Amaya has endured a challenging year. Its founder David Baazov resigned after facing several securities charges and its future as an independent company was in doubt. It withdrew from an attempted a merger with British betting company William Hill PLC and was the subject of an abandoned effort by Baazov to take the company private.

Ashkenazi said those disruptions are in the past, adding that the company isn’t changing its name because the Amaya moniker is tainted.

After selling Amaya’s legacy businesses, he said most people know the company for its ownership of PokerStars.

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