The App Store delivers apps to over 590 million iPhone users worldwide. As the portal to the app ecosystem for Apple devices, the App Store wields significant power in setting out the terms and conditions for app developers – non-compliance is simply not an option. So when the App Store introduced new guidelines for gambling apps in 2019, the implications for casino and gambling operators were significant.

The most recent updates to the guidelines affected HTML container apps – apps that reference websites, rather than offering native functionality. This impacted on many operators running these types of apps, forcing casinos and bookmakers to develop native platforms with just months to spare or face being shut out from the App Store altogether.

These apps use container elements to effectively insert the website version of a gambling platform into an app – a practice Apple feels leads to suboptimal user experience.

“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.”

Apps that offer real money casino games must also be licensed in the jurisdiction they are operating in, and geo-restricted within that location on the platform. In the case of the UK, this means Gambling Commission oversight, and that UK licensed apps must be restricted to the UK platform.

In effect, this sees the App Store duplicating the position of the UK regulator, so in practice, it should have a limited impact on major operators, aside from the tight initial implementation timelines. But for apps which could be classed as gambling on some interpretations, these grey areas can cause difficulties.

A number of apps have found themselves rejected from the App Store on the new gambling guidelines where no obvious breach of the conditions exist. Some apps that wouldn’t class themselves as gambling apps have been caught within the definition, and there is still some debate as to whether the guidelines go too far.

Nevertheless, as the judge, jury, and executioner, the App Store makes the final call. Apps that fail to comply with the guidelines continue to be routinely rejected, or removed from the platform. And with those 590 million users searching for gambling apps, non-compliance doesn’t seem an appealing choice to gambling operators.

The latest App Store guidelines were updated in 2019, and for the time being the rules look settled. But for app developers, it’s always worth reviewing the most up to date guidelines to avoid building outside of the scope of gambling apps Apple is now prepared to list.

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