Google okays fantasy sports and rummy apps in India in a pilot

Google plans to run a pilot to permit daily fantasy sports apps and rummy games on Play Store in India, addressing a request from the local community that has long expressed frustration at the Android-maker for not welcoming services on its store in the world’s second-largest market that it allows in many parts of the world.

Google said it will begin a one-year pilot starting September 28 to permit the aforementioned apps on Play Store in India. India-incorporated firms looking to participate in the pilot will be required to submit an application form, the company said on a support page.

The company’s requirement also asks these apps to not use the Google Play billing for in-app purchases during the pilot. It’s unclear if the company is allowing fantasy apps to use alternative payment methods for that. We have asked Google for more details.

“We are constantly exploring ways for local developers to build successful businesses and offer delightful experiences on Google Play. Through this pilot program, we are taking a measured approach that will help us collate learnings and retain an enjoyable and safe experience for our users,” a Google spokesperson told TechCrunch in a statement.

The American giant has for years maintained a strict policy against daily fantasy sports apps, in part because it has believed that many new internet users are struggling to understand the complexity of these programs and losing money. Google has maintained such a hard line against such apps that it infamously pulled popular app Paytm from its Play Store for several hours because the Indian fintech startup was promoting what Google deemed as gambling in the app.

Industry groups representing fantasy sports operators such as Dream11 and Mobile Premier League have for years lobbied to get Google to allow their apps on Play Store, often questioning the legal jurisdiction for the company’s thinking. Fantasy sports and rummy games are legal in India, but some states prohibit them. In a verdict last year, India’s Supreme Court ruled that fantasy sports were not gambling, but “games of skill.” Hence, the format is “legal,” the ruling said.

“I am thrilled with the announcement of Google Play’s pilot program to allow fantasy sports and rummy on the PlayStore. This could potentially be a game changer as the PlayStore has seen a 200% increase in active monthly users in India last year,” said Bhavin Pandya, co-founder and co-chief executive of Games24x7.

Apps looking to participate in the pilot program will need to ensure that they only serve users aged 18 or above, have provided their address to ensure their local states permit daily fantasy sports, as well as enter their bank details and PAN for tax purposes.

Despite Google’s stand on fantasy sports, scores of startups have built impressive large businesses in the country. Dream11, valued at over $8 billion, and MPL, valued at over $2 billion, and unicorn Games24x7 serve tens of millions of users in India through their Android progressive web apps and Android apps that users are required to install manually.