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The State of Real-Money Gaming on Mobile

Real money gaming and mobile gaming is still a murky business. With so many laws and grey areas, it's important for mobile developers looking to enter the space to stay educated. Here's a look at the growing genre.

This post originally appeared in Chartboost's quarterly Power Up Report.

The potential to win big in the real-money gaming sector of the mobile casino market is huge for devs—and now may be the time to make a bet before the figurative casino floor gets too crowded.

While big name real-money operators like MicrogamingNetEntPlaytech and William Hill have already made their mark, real-money gaming is still vastly uncharted—and unclaimed—territory for mobile casino developers.

Desktop is currently the platform of choice for real-money gaming, according to research by Optimove. However, the data-tracking firm also reported that mobile’s share of real-money gaming is increasing by a steady 2 percent every month—with 14 percent of online wagers being placed on mobile. 

“There is a large and growing market for real-money gaming,” says Assaf Einat, co-founder and chief technology officer at Boom Fantasy, creator of the first real-money, in-game fantasy sports platform for desktop and mobile. “In Europe, real-money mobile gaming is very common. In the United States, it is becoming more common as the daily fantasy sports industry continues to grow.”

If you’re a mobile casino dev looking to get into real-money gaming, you’ll likely improve the odds of your game’s success if you do two things: be aware of relevant gaming laws and develop an innovative product.

Legal Details: Knowledge Is Golden

Shaz Mirza, director of mobile services at PokerStars, which offers poker games for desktop and mobile platforms, says the complex legal landscape for online real-money gaming requires mobile casino developers to adopt an “agile and flexible” skill set.

“Developers should think more modularly, and be prepared to offer multiple versions of their games,” he says. “For example, PokerStars can have as many as 11 versions of just one of our games, tailored to different legal jurisdictions across the world.”

Boom Fantasy’s Einat says devs should look for guidance from legal counsel to ensure they can “stay on top of all the state legislative efforts regarding real-money gaming.” He also emphasizes the importance of offering “a secure product that fully complies with all state and federal laws.”

Attorney Martin D. Owens, Jr., an expert in U.S. gaming law, says that only three U.S. states—Delaware, Nevada, and New Jersey—have passed laws legalizing and licensing real-money gaming online (of which mobile gaming is considered a subset).

And while patronizing unlicensed games is a misdemeanor in every U.S. state except Washington, where it’s actually a felony, Owens says enforcement is essentially impossible.

“While the risk of legal repercussions for players is low, there is the potential that operators of unlicensed games could be found guilty of a low-grade felony. Many operators choose to relocate offshore to avoid the reach of state and federal law,” Owens says.

He adds “However, simply going abroad does not extinguish legal liability. It merely makes a given party harder to get at. In many cases, the home authorities decide it isn’t worth the trouble, particularly if there’s not much money involved.”

Owens says mobile casino developers should consider contacting a qualified gaming attorney if there are any questions about the legality of a proposed game: “They may simply need to change the mechanics of the game a little bit so that it doesn’t fit under the technical definition of ‘gambling.'”

Innovation: The Real Differentiator?

Perhaps the biggest uncertainty in real-money gaming for casino devs is whether their app can quickly grow a loyal and large fan base. For that, innovation is an obvious essential. But according to veteran game designer Tadhg Kelly, much of the innovation in real-money gaming today centers “around the graphical edges” of games—for example, changing themes.

“The key challenge for new developers in real-money gaming is the same as it is for those in any genre of games: design an original game,” Kelly says.

Still, the limitations of the mobile platform are a challenge for innovation in real-money gaming apps, says Mirza: “Mobile is not quite desktop, and never will be due to screen real estate and functionality.” He notes that sports betting and lottery apps have been successful on mobile because they follow an e-commerce model, “with quick glances and speedy checkouts.” Casino genres such as slots are also “particularly well suited for snacking on mobile,” he says.

One way PokerStars is trying to push the envelope with innovation is by combining gaming concepts. For example, it recently took its popular game Spin and Go—which Mirza describes as “a slot jackpot amalgamated to a sit-and-go poker tourney”—and adapted it to a sports betting game: Spin and Bet.

“Customers have a chance to increase their winnings by up to 10 times via a similar mechanism,” Mirza says. “In an industry that has declining margins due to competitive best pricing, especially on mobile, this is quite disruptive.”

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