Google announced Friday that beginning on March 1st, 2021, the company would allow gambling apps on its Google Play store. Apps will be limited to companies with valid gambling licenses for the geographic areas they want to offer the app, and the move is part shocking (to me) and part recognizing reality. It will have a material impact on the gambling industry, and it will be a differentiating factor from Apple’s iOS and iPadOS platforms.
The company included the change in an update posted to its Google Play Policy Center:
Subject to restrictions and compliance with all Google Play policies, we allow apps that enable or facilitate online gambling in the following countries in the table below as long as the Developer completes the application process for gambling apps being distributed on Play, is an approved governmental operator and/or is registered as a licensed operator with the appropriate governmental gambling authority in the specified country, and provides a valid operating license in the specified country for the type of online gambling product they want to offer.
We only allow valid licensed or authorized gambling apps that have the following types of online gambling products (please consult the table below for the specific types of gambling products allowed in each country):
- Online casino games
- Sports betting
- Daily Fantasy Sports
The policy change further specifies that the change will apply to Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Colombia, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Japan, Mexico, New Zealand, Norway, Romania, Spain, Sweden, United Kingdom, and United States. In the U.S., there are significant other restrictions on a state-by-state basis.
Mo Money? Not So Much
Another significant bit is that Google will not allow funding through Google Play’s in-app purchasing infrastructure—plus, these apps must not be for-fee apps. All of which means that Google isn’t going to be profiting directly from the addition of gambling apps, except for revenues derived from advertising these apps in Google Play.
Which kind of begs the question of why. Why would Google open itself up to dealing gambling licensing, which is a hot mess in the U.S. and varies from state-to-state? On the other hand, if gambling is legal, why would Google (or Apple!) forbid apps in the first place. The same would be true of porn, though this also applies more to Apple than Google.
The Gambling Industry and Mobile Apps
It also has the opportunity to really shake up the gambling industry, especially in the U.S. By explicitly allowing gambling apps—even if only from licensed gambling operators—Google just radically lowered the barrier-to-entry for legal gambling operators. While I imagine that existing gambling operators in the U.S. (I know little about gambling outside the U.S.) will fight tooth and nail to keep state licensing in existing operators’ hands, people and company outside of those existing operators now have a much cheaper path to opening a legal casino than having to build a brick and mortar palace—if they can get a license.
Will Apple follow suit? That doesn’t seem likely. For one thing, Apple works hard to ensure that ALL transactions on its App Store go through Apple’s in-app purchasing infrastructure. To be sure, the company could make an exception similar to Google’s prohibition on in-app purchases for gambling apps, but I can’t see Apple wanting its App Store image to be associated with gambling.
And that leads to the question of whether Google just found a competitive advantage over Apple in the mobile space. I don’t know exactly how big the gambling market is, but at this point Google will have a monopoly on sanctioned gambling apps.