This is a developing story and we will update it as new information comes in.
The rumors were already swirling about gaming apps struggling to get in the Apple App Store. Now the whispers are written down in black and white.
The latest update to the App Store Review Guidelines spells out some new rules for real-money gaming apps that will have a big impact on the industry.
The June 3 update added the following section:
Guideline 4.7. 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.
Apple’s previous guidelines have already been widely believed to be part of the hold up of apps getting live for PA online betting, and for the lack of updates for gambling apps in NJ. These new guidelines make it abundantly clear.
What does the new rule mean for online gambling apps?
Here is the simplified version of what this rule means. Most online casino and sports betting apps contain games or functionality that are “wrapped” versions of a website. These versions are coded with HTML 5 and are not entirely developed native to the iPhone’s iOS platform.
In order for these companies to keep their real-money gaming apps in the App Store, they will have to make sure all aspects of the app are developed natively for iOS. Moreover, they have to submit it and get it approved by Sept. 3.
Another new wrinkle this rule creates is that it will remove existing gambling apps from the app store if they don’t come into compliance. While those with the apps on their phone will likely still be able to access them after Sept. 3, anyone interested in downloading the new app will not be able to until the iOS one is approved and listed.
The three-month lead time to build a functional iOS-based gaming app or get once in compliance is obviously short. That means interruptions in app availability for iOS users might be unavoidable.
Ramifications for sports betting apps?
Given that the first NFL game of the season is on Sept. 5, meeting that Sept. 3 deadline becomes all the more important for sports betting apps. The start of football season is far and away the time with the largest numbers of new customer acquisitions.
Roughly 40% of smartphone users own an iPhone. Leaving that big a chunk out of the market is already creating blowback for PA’s first online sportsbook operator SugarHouse. If the situation remains unresolved by football season, the uproar will get much louder.
PlayUSA believes that the issue is a bigger problem for sportsbooks that are part of a larger online casino; standalone sports betting apps might not have as much of an issue. In West Virginia, standalone sportsbooks are launching; in PA, many sportsbooks will be or are a part of a larger online casino.
And while the uproar gets louder, it’s at least possible sports betting revenue could quiet down. After all, in New Jersey 80% of all bets are placed on a phone. And iOS users far outpace Android users.