Why has Google become 'gambling loyal'?

Just a few years ago, Google opened up Google Play to real-money gambling apps in a limited number of countries, including the UK, Ireland, France, and Brazil. Before then, any app of that kind was totally prohibited for hosting in the official Android app store.

Starting from March 1, the new phase of real-money gambling app legalization in Google Play commences. Google now allows gambling and betting apps to be published in its Google Play Store. Generally, the policy change will have a positive impact on the gambling markets in an additional 15 countries, including English-speaking USA, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, as well as local markets in Belgium, Colombia, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Japan, Mexico, Norway, Romania, and Spain.

What does Google Play’s approval process of real-money gambling apps look like?

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Developers need to go through an application process to get their gambling apps on Google Play. The application ensures that the developer uploading the app is licensed to run a gambling operation in the country where the app will be sold. Depending on the country the following types of online gambling products are allowed: online casino games, lotteries, sports betting, and daily fantasy sports.

Google Play can allow and ban apps through the Review mechanism and limit users’ access. Gambling apps must comply with all industry laws for each country in which the app is distributed, which means Google will prevent users from accessing online casinos if they are not allowed in a particular country.

Licensed operators who want to distribute their apps legally will face additional requirements. For gambling app developers, the updated Google policy will be even more challenging than government regulations. Apps will be limited only to some of the countries where offline casinos are legal. There are also local ad regulations, requirements to prevent underage users from accessing the apps, compliance with KYC (know your customer), responsible gaming, and jurisdiction claims that will be handled by the operator and app developers.

The other limitations which can make the life of licensed gambling operators even more complicated are: all mobile gambling apps must be distributed in Google Play free of charge, and in-app purchases are prohibited; any money transactions inside apps will be available only via payment processing provided by the gambling operators themselves.

How will the Google Play Store policy affect the gambling market in general?

Any kind of legalization in such markets usually has a beneficial effect. In the near future, it might mean that fewer users will stay on black market gambling platforms, and more of them will prefer playing on officially regulated ones, as in the end it is a question of the safety and security of all parties.

The change in Google Play policies will probably increase gambling operators’ Android app development and distribution initiatives in the new local markets.

Actually, legal gambling operators are interested in official hosting on Google Play because the number of mobile online gamers is growing constantly. And what’s more, increased interest from legal gambling operators reduces the share of the grey and black market. It is expected that by the end of 2022, the share of online gambling taking place in the regulated market in Europe will increase to 80.1 percent. For many countries, there is a new market niche and a main channel to increase traffic, with millennials among them.

Speaking of geographical markets, let’s have a look at the current situation in the United States and Europe.   

In most parts of the United States, mobile casino and poker sites are banned or unregulated, but as sportsbooks become legal, live/in-play smartphone betting apps could become legal, and legal US sports betting might transform Android and iOS gaming apps in the United States. 

The European market is responsible for a share of 57 percent in the mobile gambling market, but with the new app store policies, more European and American players and users from emerging gambling markets (e.g., Colombia and Mexico) will be generating mobile gambling revenue. It is expected that over 50 percent of online gambling market revenue will be coming from mobile users by 2025.

What about the other mobile app distribution platforms?

Apple’s App Store is more democratic in terms of real-money gambling apps, though gambling app advertising is prohibited, and Apple strives to make it more complicated for users to find such apps.

As for the other more or less popular mobile app distribution platforms, including Amazon Appstore, Samsung Galaxy Store, and Huawei AppGallery, most of them state that all real-money gambling apps are completely prohibited for hosting on their platforms. The only exclusion is Samsung Galaxy Store, which allows publishing real-money gambling apps with an 18+ age restriction in South Korea, and the apps must be granted a Game Rating and Administration Committee (GRAC) rating certificate.

Will these changes affect the social casino market?

They might. The major share of social gambling revenue is made in markets where real-money gambling is severely limited. For instance, in 2019, before the regulation updates took place in the US market, North America generated 71 percent of the revenue. This share has been declining.

Regulated markets in the EU, such as in Spain and Germany, are another example of the situation: lawmakers there are discussing the possibility of covert mobile gambling regulation through loot box/in-app purchase monitoring. If that happens, both owners of land-based casinos and mobile gambling app developers will benefit, whereas social casinos will begin to lose their market share.

Image credit: Wpadington / Shutterstock

Dmitry Starostenkov is CEO at Evenbet Gaming

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