Apple meddling with legal online gambling apps

The Online Gambling Industry Better Act Fast To Address Its Apple Problem

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We encounter so many terms and conditions and fine print that most people don’t even bother reading them.

You’re going to want to pay attention to what Apple added to its App Store terms of service, though. The company rolled out updated rules on Monday, including this new protocol that has a massive impact on legal online gambling:

HTML5 games distributed in apps may not provide access to real money gaming, lotteries, or charitable donations, and may not support digital commerce. This functionality is only appropriate for code that’s embedded in the binary and can be reviewed by Apple. This guideline is now enforced for new apps. Existing apps must follow this guideline by September 3, 2019.”

The 90-day countdown to enforcement is already underway. It is also patently ludicrous.

It will be nearly impossible for developers to satisfy this requirement within three months. Apple justifies the change by noting that the appropriate place for real-money gaming transactions is on iOS, where Apple can moderate them.

Is it, though?

Gaming is a heavily regulated industry. In order to accept even a dime of action, sites must be thoroughly vetted and approved by regulators with the highest standards. What does Apple need to address in these apps that regulators aren’t already addressing?

What exactly does this new guideline mean?

Let’s break the policy down in simpler terms.

HTML5 is a type of coding language, and most online casino games are written in it. This code works on iPhones, but it is not designed for any one specific operating system. What Apple wants is to convert all of this code over onto its native iOS platform.

And they want it done in three months.

This new guideline is different from the wrapped app issue PlayPennsylvania reported on last week. The fact that these app platforms are wrapped is causing headaches, but there is nothing in the guidelines that expressly forbids it.

This guideline is about the casino games themselves.

What is the point of this new guideline?

Online casinos are not the only group affected by this rule. Apple is coming after any site with HTML5 games — social, casino, and otherwise. It’s possible that casinos may have gotten caught in the crosshairs as the company took a shot at independent game designers.

Notably, Apple is putting the finishing touches on a new Apple Arcade product it plans to launch this year.

It is far from the first group to create a mobile arcade platform. But if competitors are sidelined from the App Store, the Apple Arcade would arguably be in an enviable position.

Other groups are fighting back at Apple’s practices too. Two app developers recently filed suit against the company, alleging they are a monopoly that needs to be broken up.

iOS online casino apps could take a year

Apple is asking casino companies to scale mountains.

First, most gaming suppliers will need to staff up their development teams. The industry standard is HTML5. Once they hire new engineers, they now have to start updating what amounts to hundreds of game titles across dozens of suppliers.

That will be the bulk of this gargantuan task, but it is only the beginning.

Next up is submitting paperwork to regulators in each state they are offering online gambling. New code means a new round of vetting, testing, and approval. Then, of course, the casino app itself needs regulatory approval on an entirely new platform.

Only then can the companies submit their app to the store, where Apple will ostensibly vet it all over again. And if Apple wants to change something? Well, you’re probably going to have to run that by the regulators again too.

Does this sound like a task that can be accomplished in anywhere close to three months? Especially given that Apple seems to have dropped this guideline with no warning?

This doesn’t just affect new apps either. Existing apps will be booted out of the store on Sept. 3 if they are not in compliance. It is not alarmist to suggest that the majority of online gambling apps could end up off iPhone just two days before the start of the NFL season. Rather, it is the most likely end result.

Apple should leave regulating to the regulators

You have to question the necessity of this process.

People familiar with the approval process can tell you that regulators leave no stone unturned. If Apple is concerned about real-money transactions being on the up and up, it makes sense to vet games with donation and e-commerce components. Those are not vetted to the same extent gambling apps are.

It is frankly laughable to suggest that the security and legality of regulated online gambling transactions are inadequate.

Apple has not specified what it will be examining when these apps move to iOS, but the common thread of real-money transactions certainly implies those will be the focus of its approval.

With the impractical 90-day deadline, you can safely assume that, if Apple sought any input from the casino industry, they did not pay attention to it. More than likely, this was a decision made without consultation from people who could assuage any concerns about the safety and security of depositing and withdrawing money.

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Let’s find a practical solution

If moving everything to an iOS platform is a necessity for Apple, so be it. But give casinos a reasonable time period to actually pull it off. Apple is a big enough company that it does not have to care about working with regulators, but it could avoid making itself the enemy by working toward a middle ground.

If casino companies pledge to move to iOS, and the point is to improve the app experience, put them in a position where they don’t rush a bad product to market. Give them a year, set incremental deadlines, do something to make this timeline even the slightest bit tenable.

The gambling industry needs to speak up

The casino industry is not alone in their frustrations about iPhone apps. But the industry is a small fish in Apple’s very big pond. The tech company has no real incentive to make life easier for gambling app providers.

If gaming stakeholders want to create leverage, the answer is public pressure.

Customers need to tell Apple that the lack of casino apps is a problem. We need to side with people like those two developers taking Apple to court. And as media, we should amplify this issue so that end-users realize just how much is at stake before apps suddenly start disappearing from the platform.

Or should we all switch to Android?

- A longtime poker media presence, Jessica has worked as a tournament reporter for the World Poker Tour, co-hosted a podcast for Poker Road, and served as the managing editor for She is currently the managing editor of PlayPennsylvania.
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