UK bookmakers are embarking on a landgrab within Apple’s App Store even though the company’s rules currently mean they can’t offer a full transactional service via the outlet.
William Hill and Betfair are the latest to launch apps working within Apple’s strict gambling guidelines.
Mobile internet use among iPhone owners makes it hard for bookmakers to ignore the platform. But Apple is reluctant to approve their apps on the App Store due to restrictions on gambling in certain countries, particularly the US where the bulk of iPhone sales are generated.
Jamie Hart, sportsbook director at William Hill, said, “In the UK it’s okay because gambling is regulated, but Apple is worried about someone downloading the app here and then using it in, say, Florida, where it would be illegal. Apple likes to remain whiter than white.”
Charlie Palmer, head of mobile at Betfair, said, “Protecting its brand in the US is the core driver for Apple being so conservative when it comes to bookmakers gaining access to the App Store in both the US and countries like Japan.”
Betfair recently gained approval to launch an app on the App Store because it added a GPS function meaning no one outside of the UK can use the app, according to Palmer.
The app updates Betfair users of recent bets but doesn’t enable bets to be placed and users can’t sign up to the service via the app.
“We’re cautious when launching new products, which is why we took these precautions,” said Palmer, “We wanted the added bonus of using the App Store to add clout to our product.”
Betfair, Ladbrokes, Paddy Power and William Hill all currently support hybrid mobile apps which are designed for iPhone users but have to be downloaded from the companies’ own websites. However, most want to gain full access to the App Store to gain the exposure it offers.
William Hill intends to adopt a similar strategy to Betfair in order to gain approval from the App Store, according to Hart.
“Apple has approved our Match Predictor app,” he said. “No actual betting takes place on the app but we still had to remove our brand from it. Those are the kind of hoops we have to jump through at the moment.”
A Ladbrokes spokesman said, “Use of our site on mobile has doubled over the last year. We have a web app but are definitely looking to launch more tailored apps which we can sell via the Apple App Store.”
Sky’s gambling service SkyBet recently paired with technology firm Mkodo to feed its live odds to other apps owned by Sky, such as Sky Sports, with links directing users to its SkyBet Mobile Sportsbook.
Industry experts believe Apple will eventually relax its restrictions on gambling brands using the platform as a marketing tool, as Google did in finally allowing bookmakers to bid on its AdWords platforms from last year (nma 15 January 2009).
“Apple is sure to relax its restrictions over time,” said Hart. “I’m convinced that within five years more than 50% of our web traffic will come from mobile and that a lot of those will be iPhone users.”