Blog 53 Gaming

New App Store Review Guidelines For Online Gambling Apps

05 June 2019

Earlier this year, Apple made some updates to their App Store Review Guidelines regarding the use of HTML container apps, which resulted in some of the gaming and sports betting apps being rejected from the Apple App Store due to having limited native features. Many of these apps are wrapped websites or container apps which are cheaper to run and can be easier to build. During this time, Apple provided limited feedback on how many native features a container app should have in order to be approved. But now, Apple has released another update to the App Store Review Guidelines. Let’s take a look at it in more detail.

New App Store Review Guidelines

Below is Apple’s summary of the update:

Guideline 4.7. 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.

The actual update can be seen below:

4.7 HTML5 Games, Bots, etc.

Apps may contain or run code that is not embedded in the binary (e.g. HTML5-based games, bots, etc.), as long as code distribution isn’t the main purpose of the app, the code is not offered in a store or store-like interface, and provided that the software (1) is free or purchased using in-app purchase; (2) only uses capabilities available in a standard WebKit view (e.g. it must open and run natively in Safari without modifications or additional software); your app must use WebKit and JavaScript Core to run third-party software and should not attempt to extend or expose native platform APIs to third-party software; (3) is offered by developers that have joined the Apple Developer Program and signed the Apple Developer Program License Agreement; (4) does not provide access to real money gaming, lotteries, or charitable donations; (5) adheres to the terms of these App Review Guidelines (e.g. does not include objectionable content); and (6) does not support digital commerce. Upon request, you must provide an index of software and metadata available in your app. It must include Apple DeveloperProgram Team IDs for the providers of the software along with a URL which App Review can use to confirm that the software complies with the requirements above.

Point 4 is the rule that will now affect gaming operators. To try and understand the impact that this might have on different product verticals, we can see Apple’s definition of ‘gaming’, below:

5.3.4 Apps that offer real money gaming (e.g. sports betting, poker, casino games, horse racing) or lotteries must have necessary licensing and permissions in the locations where the App is used, must be geo-restricted to those locations, and must be free on the App Store. Illegal gambling aids, including card counters, are not permitted on the App Store. Lottery apps must have consideration, chance, and a prize.

Based on this, our initial understanding is that all sports betting, casino, lottery, poker and horse racing apps will now need to be native to be approved by Apple, and operators need to act fast. It’s likely that Apple will reject current container app updates that don’t meet the criteria, but they may remain in the App Store until the 3rd September. It’s unclear whether they will be removed after this, but it’s safe to assume that they won’t allow further updates and distribution unless they are changed to become fully native applications. While customers will still have the container versions on their phones, they won’t be able to receive updates and no new customers will be able to download the applications.

What can operators do?

Three months to build a fully featured native sportsbook app from scratch for a major operator is a massive undertaking and potentially unrealistic. It will require sizable and skilled native development teams to ensure all functionalities are fully compliant. However, operators with less complex products may be able to meet the deadline if they start now.

Unfortunately for gaming businesses, it’s necessary to continue trading. While they may be able to keep their container apps on Google Play Store, we can’t be certain that Google won’t follow suit and reject these as well. So we advise to begin looking into fully native apps as soon as possible, following Apple’s guidelines.

The online gambling industry could try to come to an agreement with Apple to be more lenient on the demands for gambling apps, but it’s very unlikely given the power the tech giant holds in the digital space and its lack of involvement in the industry overall.

We’ll be working closely with our clients to help them make the necessary changes to their products and build great products according to the guidelines. If you’d like to discuss the development of native gaming apps with us, please get in touch below.

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