Google Play quietly approves gambling apps ahead of 2015 NFL season

Chicago Bears v Tampa Bay Buccaneers
LONDON, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 23: Match balls siton the turf prior to the NFL International Series match between Chicago Bears and Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Wembley Stadium on October 23, 2011 in London, England. This is the fifth occasion where a regular season NFL match has been played in London. (Photo by Warren Little/Getty Images)
Photograph by Warren Little—Getty Images

On the eve of the NFL season, Google’s (GOOGL) app store quietly approved two daily fantasy apps in what appears to be a reversal of its longstanding ban on apps that enable gambling.

A substantial amount of money will be wagered on NFL contests this year through daily fantasy apps, primarily those offered by companies like DraftKings and FanDuel.

In daily fantasy, users bet on individual players by selecting a hypothetical lineup of players, and collect a cash prize if their team ends up with the best statistics. These picks and wagers can be done through a web browser or, increasingly, on mobile apps.

Until recently, Google Play didn’t allow either FanDuel or DraftKings on the Google Play app store. Individuals that wanted to wager on daily fantasy using their Android phones instead had to “sideload” the app by turning off security settings and installing a separate file.

Over the weekend, a fully-featured DraftKings app that lets players create an account, deposit money, and wager on contests popped up on Google Play. The next day, FanDuel followed suit, uploading its own fully-featured app onto the Android app store. Both companies previously had basic apps on Google Play that allowed users to check stats, but not create accounts or deposit money. Meanwhile, iPhone users have been able to install fully-featured daily fantasy apps since 2014.

Despite the Google turnaround, both startups took rather soft approaches to announcing the news. DraftKings merely retweeted one of its developers who revealed the new development, while FanDuel only tweeted its Google Play link once, and declined to share the news on Facebook.

Meanwhile, Google Play’s developer program policies remain the same:

Gambling: We don’t allow content or services that facilitate online gambling, including but not limited to, online casinos, sports betting and lotteries, or games of skill that offer prizes of cash or other value.

According to a source close to the situation, the DraftKings and FanDuel apps are part of a “closed, limited pilot” in the United States app store. The Google Play developer policies won’t change for now, and Google is not taking a transaction fee from the two apps.

Daily fantasy is becoming big business in the U.S.: both DraftKings and FanDuel are startups with valuations over $1 billion. DraftKings raised $300 million earlier this summer, with the round led by FOX Sports, who reportedly has an 11% stake. FanDuel’s not lagging behind, either, nabbing $275 million in July in a round led by private equity firm KKR.

According to FanDuel’s investor website, it paid out $560 million to its users in 2014.

The lucrative daily fantasy market has grown so much in recent years that even tech giant Yahoo decided to enter the legal gambling world this year, offering cash prizes on its iOS app and website, although most features aren’t included on Android.

Although both FanDuel and DraftKings offer daily fantasy for other sports besides professional football, pigskin is the rainmaker. The Fantasy Sports Trade Association estimates $11 billion of the $15 billion spent on all fantasy sports is football-related, so the timing is right to snag Android-using bettors looking to gamble on professional football.

These two apps could be seen as an exception to Google Play’s policy, or a sign that rules regarding fantasy apps might soon change.

FanDuel and DraftKings did not return requests for comment.

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