July 08, 2019
Mobile sports betting has arrived in Pennsylvania, but online sports betting in PA still has a ways to go before it reaches its potential.
The big issue, right now, is that bettors can not legally place a bet from an iPhone or iPad. And when you consider that roughly half of all mobile users (and perhaps an even greater percentage of bettors) use iOS, this has significantly watered down the launch of mobile betting in Pennsylvania, even if things got off to a hot start when $573k worth of bets were placed at SugarHouse in three days after their launch at the end of May.
Without getting too technical, the lack of iOS compatibility thus far from the three legal online sportsbooks — SugarHouse, Bet Rivers, and Parx — is the result of a recent Apple App Store policy update which insists online gambling apps be coded natively for iOS and not be a port of an HTML web app. None of the aforementioned sites are yet compliant with Apple's updated terms. In fact, most online casinos use an HTML wrap to power their mobile apps, so this has the potential to be a major industry-wide problem.
Apple is currently restricting new apps that are not compliant, but said that by September they will begin removing old apps whose code isn’t up to par from the App Store. This means a number of current online sportsbooks in New Jersey could be impacted if they don’t update their apps accordingly.
It’s not an easy fix.
Many, if not most, online sportsbooks and casinos use third-party providers to power their branded offerings. These off-the-shelf products are typically built with HTML coding so they can be used on the web and are then wrapped into iOS and Android apps.
For instance, SugarHouse, which was the first to launch online in PA, and sister site Rivers, use foreign-based Kambi to power their online sportsbooks. So does Parx.
The Google Play Store doesn’t allow gambling apps at all, but with Android being an open system, users can download the app directly from operators’ sites — but that's not the case on iOS, where all app downloads have to go through the App Store.
A re-coding of the apps can be a long process - potentially longer than three months - so it’s possible this gaping hole in the market extends into football season.
For what it’s worth, Mattias Stetz, chief operating officer at Rush Street, which owns SugarHouse and will soon rebrand the Philly casino to “Rivers Philadelphia,” told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that they are working on an "alternative solution" should the App Store issue continue to pose a problem.
Online casinos, however, which are scheduled to launch in PA on July 15, will be much more heavily impacted due to just the sheer number of games that would need to be rebuilt for the iOS platform.
One possible saving grace for iOS bettors could come when FanDuel Sportsbook launches in PA.
FanDuel, owned by BetFair, has partnered with Valley Forge Casino Resort to brand their online sports betting offering. It is expected to launch later this month (though delays have been the norm in PA, so don’t be surprised if it’s August), and sources tell us they will be live on iOS at launch or shortly thereafter.
As the market leader in New Jersey, FanDuel is poised to take a commanding lead in PA once football season starts, especially if they are the only app available on iOS.
Brands like DraftKings and FanDuel are synonymous with sports gaming, and so they instantly have credibility with potential sports bettors. This premise has been borne out in New Jersey. It also helps that those companies, along with pure-play sports betting operator PointsBet, are tech-first companies which are better equipped to deal with compliance issues such as the one posed by Apple.
Other candidates to launch in PA include FOX Bet (previously BetStars), Unibet, and potentially other casino-branded apps. But all might suffer from the new Apple policy, and their launch timelines remain unclear.
In short, online betting is here in Pennsylvania. But a major hurdle is preventing widespread adoption at the moment. Getting this all sorted out by football season is in the best interest of state coffers, as Pennsylvania takes a 36% tax on online betting revenue. Bettors can only wait.
Kyle Scott is the founder and editor of CrossingBroad.com.
Follow Kyle on Twitter: @CrossingBroad