Google allows test of real-money gambling apps in India, but without its billing systems

Local regulators think such apps should be banned because of incidents including suicides

Google has expanded its test of apps that allow users to gamble – and lose – real money, but won't allow that money to be handled using the billing systems it has fought to impose on developers of other apps.

The search, ad, and mobile OS giant already has a policy to allow gambling apps if they're government approved and fall into the following categories:

  • Online casino games;
  • Sports betting;
  • Horse racing (where regulated and licensed separately from sports betting);
  • Lotteries
  • Daily fantasy sports.

In July 2022, Google started a pilot for digital versions of arcade claw machines – on which players pay for the chance to pick up a prize with a frustratingly imprecise gripping device. That pilot was offered in Japan only and will run for a year.

On Wednesday Google announced it would allow Indian developers to offer daily fantasy sports apps, and multiplayer versions of the card game Rummy.

Google surely knows – as reported by Indian outlet MediaNama – that some Indian state governments have tried to ban online Rummy. Another Indian outlet, The Hindu, has reported 17 cases of suicide linked to online gambling in India.

Which may be why one of Google's conditions for the pilot is that apps "must NOT be purchasable as a paid app on Google Play, nor use Google Play in-app billing." (Google capitalized the "NOT".)

It is unclear if Google has barred use of its payments systems because it doesn't want any involvement in gambling, or to ensure apps use only virtual currency that can't cause real-world losses.

If the former scenario is Google's motivator, denying developers access to its payments systems is a remarkable position. Google has mostly fought to ensure developers can't escape its financial net. Regulators around the world have come to regard Google's requirement to use those systems as a monopoly. South Korea legislated to enforce more choice and earlier this week Google announced it would allow more payment options – but still take a four percent cut of transactions on the Play Store conducted by alternative means.

The company has also framed the Indian pilot as an exploration of "possible updates" to its policies. Perhaps the company will not like what it learns, and pull the plug.

But for a year from September 28, Google Play India will host such apps – and Google risks being held accountable if they're found to be harmful. ®

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