If the past 10 years have taught us anything it’s that the future is not just online, it’s on the go. For countless consumers, mobile and tablet devices are the preferred method of accessing online content. After a slow start, gaming developers have come around to prioritizing mobile platforms. All of this momentum has ground to a halt at the most unlikely of sources: app stores which refuse to carry the applications in the US.
For years the biggest app store in the US, Apple’s App Store, refused to carry apps that offered real money gambling. After three states implemented intrastate online gambling in 2013, the policy changed to reflect the new legal framework. The App Store currently requires that “Apps that offer real money gaming (e.g. sports betting, poker, casino games, horse racing) or lotteries must have necessary licensing and permissions in the locations where the App is used, must be restricted to those locations, and must be free on the App Store.”
These reasonable parameters allow customers to access the gaming platforms, and put the burden on the gaming operators to comply with state law licensing and geolocation restrictions. It is a win-win scenario for customers and operators to act within the law. So perhaps the most surprising thing about the new rules is that other app stores have not followed Apple’s lead.
The second biggest player in the US app market is the fast-growing Google Play. Unlike Apple, Google took the opposite approach in 2013 and issued a new policy which refused to accept real money gambling apps in the US Google Play store, even as states legalized online gambling on an intrastate basis. Frustrated operators have found that this ban severely hampers their ability to reach Android-based customers. Luckily, unlike iOS, Android is an open platform so Android users can download apps that are not offered through the Google Play store. Gaming operators can offer an app download on their own websites instead of through Google Play. This workaround does allow the app to be downloaded by those that already know about the operator and seek out the app, but it lacks the window-shopping quality of new customers discovering the app at the Google Play storefront.
Additional states will surely legalize intrastate online gaming in the future, and eventually, federal legislation may allow online gaming nationwide. At what point will Google Play finally allow these legitimate, legal, and licensed companies to offer their games in the Google Play store? It remains to be seen, but when it happens it will signal a recognition that mobile platforms should not be more heavily controlled than their desktop counterparts.