Is Google joining the dark side?

In today’s Finshots we see why Google is finally allowing real money gambling apps on Play Store

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The story

Have you ever seen ads for fantasy sports apps?

Like Dream 11 for example —where participants assemble imaginary or virtual teams of real players with the aim of earning money from them?

Or online rummy?

A card game where you could potentially make a killing?

Well, if you have seen these advertisements and decided to try your luck by going to Google Play Store, you will probably be disappointed. You won’t find the app there. Instead, your search will return irrelevant results.

And no, it’s not an accident. It’s by design. Google does not want these apps on its platform. He does not want to promote “real money” games. He knows the potential for addiction is real, and he’ll quickly stop you from going that route.

So your only choice is to go to the company’s website (eg Dream11 website) and follow the instructions there to download the app. It’s not as convenient and it’s certainly not ubiquitous.

But now Google is reversing its policy. From September 28 this year, Google will offer some real money gambling apps (including fantasy sports and online rummy apps) on the Play Store. The pilot is expected to last for a year and interested developers will need to submit documents to make their app available on Play Store.

And if things work out, real money gambling apps like online rummy could explode in popularity. In fact, it’s not even unique to India. In 2021, Google extended this concession to 15 more countries, including the United States as well, and yes, real money apps became popular almost overnight.

But you might turn around and ask – Why?

Why is Google changing its position?

Well, many reasons. But let’s start with the obvious.

“Do not be evil.”

It was Google’s unofficial motto for nearly two decades. A catchy phrase formalized in their code of conduct during the company’s early years. But in 2018, Google moved the citation to the end of the document, relegating it almost to by-lines.

Why? you ask.

Well, because good and bad are amorphous ideas. There are no signs labeled “right” and “wrong” as you navigate this complex world. It’s not always obvious what the right thing is.

For example, consider this – Google didn’t let real-money gambling apps stay on its platform for very long. However, this only opened new gateways for illegitimate companies to dupe unsuspecting customers. If you search for Dream11 (a popular real money fantasy game) on play store, you won’t find the app, of course. But you will find an array of apps that resemble Dream11 in some way.

Something like “Playing 11 Dream Prediction” created by some “Droid Devlopers” [sic]. It’s not the same app, and it’s entirely possible that you’ll be misled into downloading an app that may do more harm than good.

Additionally, Google’s reluctance to allow real-money gambling apps on Play Store has had massive consequences elsewhere. People always install these apps by sideloading them, i.e. completely bypassing Google. This makes their devices vulnerable to malware – bits of code that can secretly spy on your device. It can get very bad very quickly.

Finally, you could say there’s nothing particularly bad about real money apps in the first place. There is a difference between a game of chance and a game of skill. Gambling is betting on uncertain outcomes. A game of skill, on the other hand, depends on you, your superior knowledge, training, attention and experience. However, most games incorporate elements of both skill and luck. Courts have therefore relied on the “competence test” to separate the two. If it could be proven that a game is primarily a game of skill and not of chance, then the game is said to have passed the “test of skill”. And in 2015, the Supreme Court of India declared rummy, poker, card games and online fantasy sports to be games of skill.

So why should Google hold itself to a higher standard, when the courts see no problem with skill-based gaming apps, huh?

Well, that’s food for thought.

But there’s another reason why Google might consider going down this road.

She’s a cash drawer. When you download an app from Play Store and make in-game transactions, Google retains a share, often as high as 30%. And while there aren’t many apps that can entice users to spend a lot of money, real money apps do it easily. And it is a growing market.

Real money games are worth at least ₹8,500 crore in India and it is growing by almost 30% every year. Out of the 40 crore players in India, 4 crore users play with real money. And if Google manages to expand the market even further and take a slice every time someone makes a transaction, well, that could be a game-changer for them in India.

The only question then is: will this open the floodgates and make real-money gambling apps ubiquitous?

And what kind of impact will it have on people in general?

You told us.

Until there…

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