On January 28th, 2021, Google announced new policies regarding their Real-Money Gambling, Games and Contests policy. These policy changes came into effect on March 1st, and with these changes new types of apps have emerged on the Play Store- including some that are reaching high ranking positions in their category.
Google Play Developer Policy Changes: Real-Money Gambling
Casino apps have always had a tricky compliance tightrope to walk, whether purely social or involving real money prizes. Staying up to date on the latest regulations is critical to staying competitive on the app stores, whether the change directly impacts your app or could impact your competitive landscape.
The changes from the beginning of March impact developers in the United States and around the world. One change involves expanding the number of countries in which developers can publish licensed real money gambling apps, with new countries including Australia, Belgium, Canada, Colombia, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Japan, Mexico, New Zealand, Norway, Romania, Spain, Sweden, and the United States. Previously, this was only permitted in Brazil (limited to approved apps published by Caixa Economica Federal), Ireland, France, and the United Kingdom.
One of the big changes is Google allowing real money gambling apps in the United States, something Apple also allows on the iOS App Store- with restrictions of course. Google also has restrictions to what types of real money gambling apps are allowed, and where they are allowed to operate.
Developers must also complete an application process to be distributed on the Play Store, be an approved governmental operator and/or be registered as a licensed operator with the appropriate governmental gambling authority in a specified country with a valid operating license for the type of gambling product offered.
For the United States, license approval and eligibility varies from state to state. The list of new types of apps and where they are allowed to operate include:
- Online Casino Games: permitted in Delaware, Nevada (poker only), New Jersey and Pennsylvania.
- Sports Betting: permitted in Colorado, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Tennessee and West Virginia. Sports betting apps are also permitted in District of Columbia, Montana and Oregon via governmental operators only.
- Lotteries: state-run operators or affiliated contracted operators in Georgia, Illinois, Kentucky, Maine, Michigan, New Hampshire, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Virginia.
- Daily Fantasy Sports: Daily fantasy sports apps were previously allowed on the Play Store in the U.S., though since just like other types of gambling they are regulated differently in different states, local laws and regulations must be taken into consideration
Further Real-Money Gambling Eligibility Requirements
Along with the above Google states even more eligibility requirements:
• Developer must successfully complete the application process in order to distribute the app on Play;
• App must comply with all applicable laws and industry standards for each country in which it is distributed;
• Developer must have a valid gambling license for each country or state/territory in which the app is distributed;
• Developer must not offer a type of gambling product that exceeds the scope of its gambling license;
• App must prevent under-age users from using the app;
• App must prevent access and use from countries, states/territories, or the geographic areas not covered by the developer-provided gambling license;
• App must NOT be purchasable as a paid app on Google Play, nor use Google Play In-app Billing;
• App must be free to download and install from the Store;
• App must be rated AO (Adult Only) or IARC equivalent; and
• App and its app listing must clearly display information about responsible gambling.
Other Google Play Developer Policy Changes
New requirements for gamified loyalty programs, including different guidelines for Game vs Non-Game apps.
For Games, loyalty gamification and variable rewards are not allowed. All loyalty rewards must be based on a fixed ratio and schedule.
For Non-Games, loyalty gamification and variable rewards are allowed, such as a contest with a chance based outcome. Odds of winning, variables used to determine the reward, entry deadlines and award dates must be disclosed.
For both Games and Non-Games, the ratio of loyalty point or reward accrual must be disclosed conspicuously within the app and on the Terms & Conditions of the program, which need to be available from the app.
A few other, less notable changes were included- more examples and clarification to existing policies were also added.
With these changes coming into effect on March 1st, several new apps have been introduced into the Play Store ecosystem and are climbing up the US charts fast.
These include new apps from familiar brands FanDuel and DraftKings, which already had their own highly ranked apps in the Sports category prior to the change. FanDuel Sportsbook achieved a #14 ranking in the Sports category on March 13th, and sits at the #2 position as of March 29th. DraftKings Sportsbook & Casino quickly achieved a #3 ranking on March 13th, moving between the #3 and #5 position ever since, and sits at the #4 position as of March 29th. Both of these apps outrank their older counterparts, FanDuel Fantasy Sports and DraftKings Daily Fantasy Sports, which also fall under Google’s “real gambling / paid contests” content rating.
Other apps are entering the real-money gambling space and climbing the charts in the Casino category, with BetMGM Online Casino moving from #209 in the Casino category on March 23rd to #52 as of March 29th and Borgata Casino moving from #227 to #113 in the same timeframe.
The Sports category has been traditionally dominated by apps that follow major sports leagues, networks, news and activities, and the Casino category has primarily been dominated by simulated gambling “slots for fun” games. The licenses, approvals and state-by-state restrictions are definitely a barrier to entry for first-time real money gambling developers, so a seismic shift in the Play Store ecosystem short-term is unlikely. But the quick rise in ranking for this new breed of apps shows there is definitely demand in the US Play Store for these kinds of apps, so long as they are able to come through the other side of the regulation and compliance gauntlet.
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