The mobile gaming landscape in the US is set to shift dramatically from spring 2021, following a recent announcement from Google about restrictions on real money gaming apps in the Google Play Store.
From March 1st 2021, Google will be lifting restrictions on real money gaming and betting Android apps in a total of 15 countries. At present, gaming apps of this nature are only permitted in the official Play store in the United Kingdom, Ireland, France, and Brazil. The new rules could see iGaming apps launch before the end of the first quarter in countries including Australia, New Zealand, Spain, Sweden, Germany, Japan, Canada, Mexico, and, of course, the United States of America.
Mobile Gaming in the US
Mobile Gaming has emerged as the most profitable segment of the gaming industry, pulling in an estimate of over $63 billion in revenues during 2020. It’s now the world’s most popular form of home entertainment, outperforming traditional console and PC gaming as well as movies, music, and TV combined.
In the US alone there are over 260 million smartphone users, a significant number of which regularly play gaming apps on their phones and tablets. Mobile games are now more popular than ever before across the States, making it an incredibly attractive industry to iGaming operators.
At present, however, the distribution of real money gaming apps on the Android platform is severely restricted. While eSports favorites like Fortnite enjoy unlimited distribution across the United States thanks to Google Play, iGaming apps like PokerStars’ mobile platform have only been available to download in Pennsylvania and, more recently, Michigan. Additionally, newly-released mobile sports betting apps from MGM and Wynn Entertainment can only be played in a handful of states including New Jersey, Nevada, and Delaware.
While many of the restrictions can be traced to the complex relationship the US has with real money gaming, the Google Play Store has been out of bounds to iGaming apps, even in those states where mobile iGaming has been fully legislated.
This has led to the practice of sideloading Android apps, either via an APK or an alternative app store; although this is something that Google has been attempting to crack down on to increase its monopoly on Android app distribution. In contrast, iPhone users have been able to download iGaming apps directly from the iOS App Store in states where digital real-money gaming has been approved.
Balancing out the Field?
While this new Google Play policy will undoubtedly spur on the growth of mobile gaming in America, it could be some time before the US is on an even field with the likes of the UK in terms of both the number of mobile iGaming apps it has in the Play store and their popularity.
The current process for submitting an Android app to the Play Store requires developers to submit a detailed application process. The new policies, while lifting the block on real money gaming apps, won’t be removing this requirement since it ensures the developer uploading the app has the appropriate licenses to run a real money operation in the country where the app is being sold.
When it comes to the US, Google has explicitly stated that any developers or publishers looking to release any mobile poker, casino, sports betting, fantasy sports, etc. app in the country can only do so in accordance with state limitations. Because real money gaming varies throughout the US on a state-by-state basis, the onus will be on app creators to first do their legal homework and ensure that the games they offer are fully permitted in the states where they wish to do so.
Real money gaming has gained a lot of momentum in the years since the Supreme Court first overturned the PASPA 1992 Act and gave the control of real money gaming activities to individual states. So far, a total of seventeen states have legalized a mixture of online casino and poker, sports betting, lotteries, and fantasy sports activities, with New York likely to be the next state to do so.