What’s Holding Up PA Online Sports Betting Launch? The Apple App Store

Posted on May 24, 2019

PA online sports betting has seemingly been close to launching in recent months, given the chatter coming from those in the know in and around the state.

But as of late May, the wait goes on for online wagering of any type — online casinos as well as sports gambling. That’s more than a year and a half after the initial gaming expansion law took effect, and also more than a year since the fall of the US sports betting ban.

There are a variety of reasons why the launch has not come quickly, from regulatory concerns to worries over the Wire Act.

PlayPennsylvania can confirm that some sports betting apps are actually pretty much ready for launch. But the proximate reason that they haven’t appears to be an inability for many of them to be included in Apple’s app store for iOS.

Not the apple of Apple’s eye

PlayPennsylvania can confirm more than one operator is having trouble getting their apps into the app store. That makes launching any online gambling product suboptimal, as they would be going live with only a direct Android download and a mobile-optimized browser interface. Then, bettors with iPhones would not have a mobile option.

While the mobile versions are usually pretty polished, going sans the app store is not a preferred way to launch.

The hold up is certainly not just the fact that they are gambling apps. There are plenty of legal betting apps available via the app store, which includes a number of NJ online casinos and NJ sportsbooks, the latter of which all eventually got approval in 2018 and early this year.

So, what is the holdup? That’s not entirely clear, but we can speculate.

Why no PA sportsbook apps?

The fact that Apple’s approval is behind the void of PA sports betting apps not exactly a secret in the gaming industry. What isn’t as transparent is the “why.” Just about everyone is tight-lipped about why any apps have been slow to be approved for iOS.

One good theory appears to be that PA sportsbooks are getting caught up in a recent update to the Apple Review Guidelines. Apple has been more and more stringent on requiring “native” functionality from app developers.

Here’s a useful summation of the issue from a European gaming media outlet:

Apple has been enforcing the updated guidelines and clamping down on new apps being submitted as so-called ‘wrapped websites’ and is also proactively targeting and rejecting updates to existing apps with minimal or no native functionality.

According to (mobile app creator) mkodo, this is likely to affect brands both big and small in the betting and gaming industry, where it has been common practice for apps to be wrapped versions of an operator’s website.

There’s also this report from earlier this year about European sportsbook operators having problems with getting approval in the wake of the update.

So, short of more information, this would seem to be a likely holdup for at least some sportsbook apps seeking approval.

What’s next for PA sports betting online?

That’s not exactly clear. If the problem is actually native development, then some operators might have to start from scratch for an iOS product.

That would mean a long wait for a full launch or the Android/web only combination possibility floated above. But again, that’s going to severely limit any operator’s reach at the start without an iOS app.

Sportsbook operators, for now, apparently continue to hope that they can crack Apple’s app store and go live with a full launch that includes iOS.

Whether that approval is coming is unknown. In the meantime, everyone continues to wait for the first PA sports betting app to go live.

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Dustin Gouker

Dustin Gouker has been a journalist for more than 15 years, working as a reporter, editor and designer -- including stops at The Washington Post and the D.C. Examiner.

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