Google’s “I’m Feeling Lucky” button, which, for those that don’t know, opens a random website pertaining to a searcher’s query, is one of only a few instances of pro-gambling behavior. When compared to Apple, Google seems to have adopted gambling more slowly than Apple, even prior to launch of Google Play.
In the mid 2000’s, internet poker was being played across the world and was very popular in the United States. In 2006, the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006 was passed that made internet poker illegal. However, overseas poker companies like PokerStars and Full Tilt Poker continued their operations and even marketed their services in the U.S. “There was a number of poker vendors, a number of them offshore on Microsoft, Yahoo, and Google. I remember I was an inhouse executive at that time and executives were saying if they are advertising this, it must still be legal,” Mark Hichar, Shareholder, Greenberg Taurig, LLP said at La Fleur’s 2019 DC conference.
In 2007, the District of Justice’s (DOJ) Office of the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Missouri fined the three companies a combined total of $31.7 million. Although Google was only fined $3 million compared to Yahoo’s $7.5 million and Microsoft’s $21 million, it may have lead to company taking a more anti-gambling stance or at least a very wary one.
In the U.K. for instance, where internet gambling has been legal and regulated since the “Gambling Act 2005”, Google banned gambling advertising in 2007. It revised the policy in 2008 to allow for gambling in the U.K.
Google didn’t revise its policy to include other countries until 2011. Even then, it refused to allow advertising for gambling products that were not run by national or state officials. Today, in the United States, lotteries are the only entities allowed to advertise online gambling products on Google, according to their Advertising Policies: Gambling and Games/Country Restrictions section. Other jurisdictions do allow non-lottery RMG games to be advertised; all companies in all jurisdictions must prove they have a state authorized license.
Their leniency towards lotteries with advertising does not extend to their app store. While lottery apps are ok –like retail locators, number checkers, loyalty clubs, etc—apps that include real money games are not allowed to be promoted in the store. So a person with an Android phone couldn’t open up Google Play and search for a Michigan Lottery app that allows them to gamble.
“Before we had iLottery, we had no issues promoting a lottery app. After iLottery, they don’t allow the app in there. We’ve had to get creative. So what Michigan has done is created an Android Lite app,” Shannon DeHaven, Deputy Director, Digital Operations, Michigan Lottery said.
The Lite version of the Michigan app allows players to check winning numbers. But it does not allow for players to sign into their accounts. The Lite App also prompts Michigan players to download the full Michigan Lottery app. The full app allows for players to log in and play iLottery games. Players must go to the lottery’s website and follow instructions on how to manually download and install the app.
Players first must change their phone’s settings to allow apps from unknown sources. Then players must download an Android Package file (APK). Finally, before players can install the file, they must first accept the condition that the file may harm their device.
While Michigan Lottery players are still downloading the app at a high rate, players are often concerned after going through the process because it is so unusual and ominous. “It comes with a lot of commentary of ‘is this ok,’ ‘is this secure,’ ‘Michigan Lottery what are you doing’ because they don’t understand this is a Google rule that we are following,” said DeHaven.
This issue is faced by everyone within the internet gambling industry. Jackpocket, a courier service style app that allows players to order lottery tickets over the internet, has similar issues on Google Play. The Jackpocket website detects if players are using an Android phone and then ushers them to either the APK file or to play through the mobile website. “It is a pain. You have to be tech savvy enough to understand how to accept third-party apps outside the app store and then have enough consumer confidence to accept us and know it’s not going to affect their phone,” Jackpocket CEO & Founder Peter Sullivan said.