New iOS App Rule Will Hit Some Players Harder than Others

Mobile PokerApple’s updated App Store Review Guidelines could handicap the ability of some gambling operators to provide a service to iPhone and iPad users.

Players taking advantage of Apple’s mobile technology to bet on sports, play casino games, and enjoy a few hands of poker on the go may soon find their favorite activities are unavailable due to a new clause in Apple’s App Store Review Guidelines. The new clause (4.7) prohibits non-native gambling apps (i.e. those not specifically built for iOS devices) that simply “wrap” mobile versions of gambling operators´ websites in HTML-5 code.

What´s probably going to be the most annoying about this latest development for gambling operators is that they already have to jump through hoops to get their apps listed in the App Store. Currently, Apple only allows real money gambling apps if the operators can show they have the necessary licensing and permissions in the location where the app is used and if the app has geo-location capabilities to prevent its unlawful use.

Why Operators Prefer Non-Native Gambling Apps

Research has shown consumers prefer mobile apps to mobile websites, and native iOS apps that use the full feature set of the Apple platform tend to be faster, have more functionality, and better security than web-based HTML-5 or hybrid apps. However the programming language is difficult to master and – because of this – native iOS apps are more expensive to produce because specialist skills are required.

Therefore many operators prefer to develop non-native gambling apps that can be used on both iOS and Android devices. These can be built, patched, and updated at the same time; and therefore are cheaper and more convenient (for the operator) even though the user experience is not as good. Consequently, most operators in the regulated U.S. gambling market provide non-native gambling apps.

Who Will the New Rule Hit Hardest?

Players who use their iPhones or iPads to bet on sports, play casino games, and enjoy a few hands of poker in the regulated market may soon find the apps are withdrawn. Apple has stated it will not allow any new apps in its App Store that do not comply with the rule, and existing apps have until 3rd September – two days before the first NFL game of the season – to comply with the change or withdraw.

Players with Android mobile devices, or those who bet in the unregulated market, will not be affected. Google is far more open to gambling apps than Apple, while players in the unregulated market don´t have the option of downloading apps from the App Store because unregulated operators don´t have the necessary licensing and permissions and most have mobile-compatible websites anyway.

The following US poker sites will not be affected because they offer instant play through browser-based HTML-5 poker apps:

The Implications for Online Poker Liquidity

The implications for online poker liquidity in the regulated market are not good. It has been estimated iOS´s share of the mobile market in the U.S. is nearly 58%; and although not all online poker players use their mobile devices to connect to online poker platforms, if gambling operators withdraw their hybrid apps from the App Store, it is going to prevent those who play on their mobiles from reaching the sites.

Ultimately, gambling operators who want to provide a mobile service to iOS users are either going to have to build and maintain iOS native apps or develop mobile-friendly websites. The first option will come at a cost that will undoubtedly be passed onto players, while the second option may deter players from playing from their mobile devices because of the inferior experience. Neither solution is ideal and both will have a negative impact on liquidity in the regulated online poker market.

Jacqueline Packett
Jacqueline Packett