Apple made a change to App Store policies which could have a massive impact on the online sports betting and gambling industry. The change is already impacting those of you in PA.

When SugarHouse Sportsbook officially launched and became the first operator to offer online sports betting in PA last week, they did so without being available on iOS at all– not through the App Store or on mobile web.


The issue was thought to be related to an app skin issue – SugarHouse effectively repeated its mobile web page* and New Jersey app in a new app for PA – but it turns out the reason is much more complex and troubling for the industry as a whole. I spoke to several industry sources to gain a better understanding of the issue, and there is some consensus that this will benefit pure-play online sportsbooks and hurt online casino brands who wish to offer sports betting.

*It doesn’t work on mobile web because website users are required to install a geo-location tool, which obviously you can’t do on iOS.

Apple’s App Store change

Here’s the problematic language:

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.

In other words, online gaming apps that take website code (HTML) and just wrap it into an app are a no-go.

This impacts casino brands which wish to offer casino games alongside their sportsbook more than it does traditional sports betting apps like DraftKings Sportsbook, FanDuel Sportsbook and PointsBet.* The reason is that online casino games are more varied, complex and often developed by third parties who offer up their code to casinos which can then easily implement the games on their website or skin them for an app (simplified explanation here).

*We’ve only confirmed this in regards to PointsBet– it’s unclear if DraftKings or FanDuel are skins.

Some sportsbook software from the pure-play sports betting apps, while often developed in tandem with a third party, is coded as a native app on mobile.


A big problem in PA

This explains the holdup in SugarHouse’s iOS launch in PA, but it spells trouble for most everybody. Here’s a working list of the sportsbooks expected to launch in PA sometime in 2019:

  • SugarHouse
  • Parx
  • FanDuel
  • FOX Bet
  • Rivers
  • Harrah’s
  • BetAmerica
  • Unibet

As you can see, most of those are casino brands which either have stated plans or do plan to offer online casino games in the same app as their sportsbook. And as we just discussed, it’s those online casinos most impacted by this change.

FanDuel Sportsbook may be the only outright sports betting app in PA that won’t have to deal with this issue– again, if they aren’t using a skin of the website, which we’re not sure of.


Doubly difficult

Apple is further complicating matters by requiring casinos to offer their online casino and sportsbook in the same app. So while it might be “relatively” easy for a SugarHouse or Parx to separate their sportsbook and casino apps, and hold off on launching the casino app until they can comply with Apple’s policies, the fact that both must be contained in the same app may force casinos to choose between launching without iOS at all or waiting to include highly profitable casino games. And that’s only if their sportsbooks are coded natively for iOS, which isn’t clear.

This is the reason for the delay in PA.


Most people use iOS

About half of mobile users in the United States use iOS. Half. And when you consider that both the vast majority of online bets and a presumably higher number of in-game bets come on mobile devices, you can start to do the math and realize that not offering sports betting on iOS is a big deal, for sportsbooks and bettors alike.

Anecdotally, about 67% of our readers – mostly young male sports fans in Philly – use iOS as their mobile device:

ios betting device


Removing apps

It sounds like Apple will begin removing apps that don’t comply with this policy on September 3, which puts, say, SugarHouse Sportsbook in New Jersey in a very bad spot. Again, DraftKings, FanDuel, PointsBet and WilliamHill may not be impacted by this, but some of the casino brands will.


What’s next?

While theoretically possible, hardcoding a wide-range of casino games from scratch for inclusion in the iOS App Store is a daunting task, meaning Apple’s new policy will effectively ban many online casinos from the App Store for a time.

Current players would be able to keep those apps on their iPhones and iPads, but forget about updates.

Regardless, three months development time is certainly not enough for most operators to get in compliance.


Who will this impact?

Almost certainly SugarHouse (already impacted), Parx, Rivers, and Harrah’s. It’s unclear whether FOX Bet (owned by Stars Group) or Unibet will be impacted, though Stars says they do use a wrap for their app.

Either way, this is a big stumbling block to sports betting and online casinos. Especially in PA.

We’ll keep you updated.