Apple hasn’t been having the best of times with its App Store during the past twelve months. The company is at loggerheads with Epic Games about the terms and conditions offered by its store and stands to be a big loser if Epic win their looming court battle. Epic says that Apple’s policy of requiring every company that uses the platform to hand over a 30% cut of all revenue is excessive, and also that its policy of preventing apps from being downloaded to Apple devices from any other source amounts to a monopoly. Several companies have joined the battle at Epic’s side, and Apple has its hands full defending itself against the accusation. The last thing the company needed is another lawsuit aimed at attacking App Store policies, but it’s got one.
A new lawsuit, filed in the United States of America, accuses Apple of allowing illegal gambling apps to operate through the App Store and profiting from the same. Going further, it specifically alleges that some of these gambling apps have been made available to children, with child-friendly interfaces and gambling features hidden behind what appear to be child-focused games. One of them, known as “Jungle Runner 2K21,” reloads purely as a casino app without even using the pretense of being a game if a proxy server is used to access it. “Magical Forest – Puzzle” works in much the same way. Both games have been removed from the app store since the problem came to light, but the lawsuit targets more titles than just those two.
The specifics of the lawsuit say that there are literally dozens of casino apps on the App Store that allow uses to “play for free” but then offer a way of buying more playing time in return for real money. This would violate Apple’s own rules and constitutes a crime in 25 of the 50 American states. The games work by offering new players a stack of free credits to use on any casino game of their choosing but then prompts players to buy a refill once their free credits are used up. Several players who took the apps up on this offer have been named as plaintiffs in the lawsuit.
It should be noted that gambling apps aren’t necessarily illegal on the App Store. Apple has no qualms with casino apps being made available so long as they’re geo-locked and can’t be accessed in territories where it would be illegal to play them. That’s a complicated operation in the USA, where laws about online slots websites and casinos differ wildly from one state to another. Some states don’t allow mobile betting at all. Some states have no specific laws that govern online slots websites or apps because they haven’t revised their gambling laws since the pre-internet days. Others – the more conservative states – prohibit all forms of gambling, whether carried out on the internet or not. It’s sometimes permissible to access an online slots website that’s hosted in another territory – Rose Slots IE being one such example – but the overall picture is a confused one. That’s why so many gambling companies stay away from it and might be why some of the less trustworthy ones appear to be trying to circumvent the rules. In the process, they’re using Apple’s App Store as a way in.
There isn’t a debate about whether the apps exist or not because it’s clear that they do. The legal debate will determine to what extent Apple is complicit in its existence. The wording of the new lawsuit says that Apple has actively enabled, permitted, promoted, and profited from illegal gambling. The company will defend itself against that accusation vigorously. Legal analysts say that the company is likely to argue that the apps got into the App Store by misrepresenting themselves and attempting to deceive Apple, but that amounts to arguing in favor of the company’s incompetence or lack of oversight. Even if it’s a winning argument, it will look bad for the tech giant at a time when they’re trying to argue the case for the App Store’s ongoing existence in its current form.
This isn’t the first time Apple has found itself in court trying to defend against accusations that it enables illegal gambling. The last time this happened was only a few months ago when the company was accused of promoting gambling to teenagers and minors by allowing “loot boxes” to exist within the App Store. The problem of loot boxes is a wider one for the video game industry and is subject to ongoing court cases all over the world. The question of whether Apple was illegally providing access to loot boxes was settled in California in March, where a judge decided that the plaintiffs in the case didn’t demonstrate economic harm and that loot boxes didn’t constitute a violation of Californian law anyway. Apple had initially argued that it should be shielded from any litigation relating to loot boxes because the company didn’t create them but found itself dragged into the matter anyway. With this new lawsuit, it’s a classic case of the company being pulled back in just when it thought it had extricated itself from a tricky situation.
It seems unlikely that Apple would willingly promote or profit from apps that it knew to be illegal, so the smart money says Apple won’t be found at fault when the matter goes in front of a judge. In terms of public relations, though, this is a disaster. In order to win its case against Epic, Apple needs to demonstrate that the terms of its App Store are transparent and fair to all. It’s hard to make that case when there’s another lawsuit that accuses it of being the exact opposite making its way through the courts elsewhere. These are trying times for Apple, and it seems likely that there will be significant changes made to the App Store later this year no matter how things go in either court case. Defending claims in court is a costly matter even for a company of Apple’s resources, and the negative press coverage that comes with doing so can be expensive, too. The firm will want to take steps to ensure that this doesn’t happen again in the future.