Google on September 7 launched a pilot program allowing rummy and daily fantasy sports (DFS) apps on Play Store in India. The pilot will run from 28 September 2022 to 28 September 2023 and interested developers must submit an application to request participation. “In order to explore possible updates to the other real-money games, contests and tournament apps policy, Google Play is conducting limited-time tests,” the company stated.
Why does this matter? This is big news for Indian real money gaming companies like Dream 11, Mobile Premier League, and Games 24 x7 because until now, real money gaming apps were only available for side-loading, meaning Android users will have to manually install the app using an APK file and could not find it on the Play Store, which is often the first place a user goes to find an app. This disadvantage restricted the reach of real money gaming apps and developers of these apps have long requested Google to change its policy. However, while gaming companies might welcome the move, many state governments in India and law enforcement agencies will be against it because Google’s pilot is launching at a time when gambling and real-money gaming-related deaths are rising in India, including rummy-related, and various state governments are trying to figure out how to regulate the industry. Amidst this uncertainty, Google’s new policy will allow rummy and fantasy sports apps to have a better reach than before.
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What apps are allowed for the pilot: At this point, Google is only allowing certain types of real money gaming apps, specifically rummy and daily fantasy sports, which are defined as follows:
- Rummy: Online Rummy Games “are a set of card games available in which a player must to strategize, memorize the fall of cards, and arrange valid card sets and/or sequences by picking and discarding cards from a closed deck and an open deck, offered in either 10, 13, 21, 27 card formats, and in accordance with the rules followed for the offline versions of the same formats conventionally played in India.”
- Daily fantasy sports (DFS): Daily Fantasy Sports “are games in which contestants use their knowledge of athletic events and athletes to select or manage rosters of simulated athletes whose performance directly corresponds with the actual performance of human athletes on sports teams or in sports events. The outcome of the game depends on how the performances of participants’ fantasy roster choices compare to the performance of others’ roster choices.”
What are the legal ramifications in India: Both rummy and DFS have repeatedly been ruled as skill-based games by India’s Supreme Court, which means it does not fall under gambling (chance-based games), which most states have banned. While some states like Tamil Nadu and Karnataka have also tried banning rummy and DFS, these bans have been overturned by the courts. However, new regulations by states keep popping up and Google might get involved in legal battles because of its new policy.
A long list of terms and conditions: Participating in the pilot is not a trivial task and it won’t be surprising if many apps decide to continue relying on side-loading rather than get on Play Store because of the long list of conditions that Google has stipulated for participation:
- The app should not be a paid app on Google Play, nor use Google Play in-app Billing
- Developers must not repurpose an existing app into a DFS/Rummy app and must make available a new app for the user to install
- Users in any state or territory where DFS or rummy is prohibited must not be able to access the app
- The app should not hand off (link to/or direct users) to external gambling or money-game opportunities
- The app will have to carry out user age verification and only allow users above the age of 18
- The app must collect the address (for location verification), PAN (for tax purposes), and bank account details of users
- The app must provide users with effective redress mechanisms and customer support with respect to inquiries and complaints
- The app must have the requisite gaming, DFS and/or Rummy licenses, registrations, or permits
- The app should not be an aggregator of other real money gaming and gaming products and should not contain functionality that allows end users to access other real money gaming products or services
- The app must warn users that the DFS or rummy might be illegal and must post information about responsible gaming in-app
- App operator must be incorporated in India
- The app must only target Indian users
- The app must comply with all Indian applicable laws, regulations, and relevant codes of practice
What are Google’s gaming app policies in other countries: Google allows select types of real money gaming apps in Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Colombia, Denmark, France, Finland, Germany, Ireland, Japan, Mexico, New Zealand, Norway, Romania, Spain, Sweden, United Kingdom, and the United States. The allowed games are much wider than the pilot in India and include:
- Online Casino games
- Sports Betting
- Horse Racing (where regulated and licensed separately from Sports Betting)
- Daily Fantasy Sports
However, as the pilot in India, these apps are subject to strict requirements including holding the appropriate gambling license and age-gating and geo-gating mechanisms.
Flashback to the Paytm First Games episode and the subsequent CCI investigation: Back in September 2020, Google got into a tussle with payments app Paytm after the latter was removed from Play Store abruptly. Google argued that the Paytm app was removed because it led users to Paytm First Games, a real money fantasy sports app, which is prohibited under Play Store policies. Paytm alleged that Google removed the app unreasonably and that this removal gave Google Pay an advantage over Paytm in UPI payments. Then a few days later Google announced a new change to its billing policy and mandated that all apps on Play Store must adopt Google’s in-app billing system and pay the company a commission for all purchases. One thing led to another and Paytm, along with the founders of a few other Indian startups, joined together to take on Google Play Store’s various policies, which they found to be anti-competitive. Eventually, the startup founders formed an alliance and filed a complaint with the Competition Commission of India, which launched an investigation into the Google Play Store in November 2020.
Google to allow alternative billing systems in India: Due to the pressure from Indian developers and global regulators, Google on September 2 expanded its “User Choice Billing” pilot to India and a few other countries, allowing non-gaming apps on Play Store to offer an alternative billing system alongside Google’s in-app billing. Currently, the only option for developers is to offer users Google’s billing system for in-app purchases of digital content and services and pay the company a commission that ranges from 10-30 percent. The new program will allow developers to offer users their own billing systems or billing systems from payment providers that charge a lower commission than Google.
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