The landscape of legalized online gambling seemed in dire straits just a month ago.
As it geared up to become the third state with legalized online casinos and the third with legalized online sports betting (not counting West Virginia, which had mobile operations shut down after only a few months), Pennsylvania appeared to be in a bind.
New Apple guidelines prevented potential mobile platforms from entering the market. As a result, PA operators were limited to web browsers and Android users. Those operators would miss out on some 40% of users who own an iPhone.
FanDuel Sportsbook eventually rolled out a Pennsylvania betting mobile app, which integrates with its existing New Jersey product and is available in the Apple App Store. Before FanDuel, though, GeoComply threw PA operators a lifeline: the geolocation company dusted off and submitted to the App Store an old app that pinpoints the location of a customer and shares that data with its clients.
Essentially, the app serves as a solution to operators’ mounting headaches. Temporarily, anyway. This is not a long-term solution, according to Lindsay Slader, vice president of regulatory affairs for GeoComply.
Nonetheless, it is a solution. And a significant one for operators in Pennsylvania, or in any state considering the legalization of online gambling, which will no longer miss out on a large chunk of players using Apple products.
The temporary solution developed by GeoComply
Its PlaySugarHouse app was not the first to feature an online casino in the state, but it was Pennsylvania’s first to become accessible by Android and Apple users.
Essentially, users must download the GeoComply-produced GeoGuard Location Validator app from the App Store. The app verifies players’ locations and communicates that data to the operator.
After allowing the app access to their locations, users can return to their browser to take part in their online casino or sportsbook of their choice that is utilizing the GeoComply app.
‘Proof of concept’ turns into online gambling solution
Slader recalled GeoComply originally developing this app “as a proof of concept probably four or five years ago.”
That process, she said, began “in response to Android apps not being accepted into the Google Play store.” As users would be forced to download apps directly from operator websites rather than the Play store, GeoComply anticipated the “user journey,” as Slader put it, would become difficult.
“It wasn’t the ideal user experience,” Slader said. “So we figured that if we were able to come up with an alternative that could be more smooth, it could look like something like this. We developed it like a beta and said, ‘If anyone’s interested in rolling with this, here it is.’ … But no one really cared enough. A lot of people sniffed around and thought, ‘Yeah, this is kind of a good idea.’
“I think as everyone made their priorities and as time passed and as Android users became more familiar with the (external) file download process and became more familiar as additional operators went live in places like New Jersey, there was less than an immediate demand for such a thing. So we kind of put it on the shelf and figured, ‘OK, we’ll save that for a rainy day.’”
That rainstorm made landfall in early June when Apple updated its guidelines and required operators with real-money gambling apps to develop products native to iOS.
GeoComply throws lifeline to online gambling operators
Apple updated its guidelines within the first week of June. But as Slader pointed out, it had hinted at potential policy changes prior.
There was no overarching policy, she said. Rather, Apple began imposing similar guidelines on a case-by-case basis “as early as last fall.”
The change in June, Slader believes, is more of an official decision to institute an overarching policy, one that “seemed to slowly creep up on everyone.”
GeoComply started collaborating with clients months ago, attempting to find ways for operators to clear the hurdles Apple was throwing into their path. This was when GeoComply took its years-old geolocation app off the shelf, dusted it off and offered it as a potential solution.
“As more people started asking,” Slader said, “and the struggle as the change in policy of Apple became quite apparent, it, too, became very apparent to us that we needed to update it and really whip it into shape for production-ready product and take it from what was previously more of a proof of concept.”
GeoGuard app goes live for Apple
For months, Slader said, GeoComply maintained ongoing talks with Rush Street Interactive, the parent company of SugarHouse. They discussed solutions, if they were only temporary, to prepare for “kind of what we saw coming,” i.e., for Apple to update its guidelines.
Certainly, the technology used by the app needs regulatory approval. Explaining how the software works, how it communicates with operators and assuring the reliability and credibility of the geolocation service can be taxing.
“Put yourself in the shoes of a regulator who has never overseen online sports betting or online gaming before,” Slader said, “and try to grasp the basics of how these gaming platforms work and all the components. And then throw in the mix this app that has to talk to a website to perform the geolocation. It’s a little confusing, to say the least.”
Fortunately, GeoComply carries a credible resume as the geolocation provider for all online operators in the US. Once integrated with an online product, the app goes through testing before receiving approval from regulatory bodies. Which, of course, Pennsylvania did.
SugarHouse used it for its online casino, which shares a wallet with its online sportsbook. Its sister property in Pennsylvania, Rivers Casino, then integrated the GeoComply app for its BetRivers sports betting app.
While temporary, online gambling solution is still a solution
Slader emphasized the beauty of GeoComply’s product:
It’s not a gambling app. It doesn’t contain gaming content. As a result, it does not come under the same Apple scrutiny as real-money gambling apps. Really, GeoGuard is not a product that is only for gaming operators.
“The app is developed to support all types of e-commerce,” Slader said. “As much as a sportsbook could use it, so could any kind of business that exists online to help process financial transactions and to support the integrity of any kind of transaction online.”
That said, she added, the technology that communicates with gaming apps still goes under the Apple microscope.
Now, GeoComply’s app becomes a solution for any of its clients who wish to take their gambling apps into the Apple world. Although Slader understands that this is only a temporary solution, it is not “the ideal user experience,” she said. This is only Plan B.
“This service is something that we were able to throw into the ring for everybody to grab onto, kind of as an immediate lifeline,” Slader said, “but don’t see this as a long-term solution that we would suggest as the ideal user flow, the ideal (case) for everyone.”
She continued: “Plan A is to have a native app like everybody wants in the app store. That’s what everybody wanted. I think in the absence of being able to have that, this is Plan B. But that doesn’t mean to say that Plan C (or) D could be better.
“I think maybe what we’ll see is there’s going to be different options and doesn’t need to be one option instead of another, but give the user as many ways as possible to prove they’re located within the state where they’re supposed to be to help operators ensure that all of their users are permitted to bet and are where they’re supposed to be. They take many shapes and forms. We don’t feel there should be one way over another, but give the users as many options as possible to pass the geolocation requirements from a user’s perspective.”