You may have assumed that Steve Jobs must be driven to keep the iStore clear of anything not family-oriented, which is an edict that has kept out online gambling like bingo along with casino betting games. ‘Apple has repeatedly demanded the App Store be a safe place for kids and their parents’ . The games do exist to play on the iPhone and iPad, but not for money stakes. Little wonder then that the iStore does not offer any pornography, let alone even some underwear apps that show too much skin.
For a long time, for most of its millions of Western customers, the Apple family of i-devises have been more likely to be offered as prizes by online gaming sites than they themselves were likely to be used as real money gaming machines by their customers.
But is there really any conflict between Apple and online gambling? Is Apple actually the authority that is banning real money stakes? Perhaps by seeing Jobs as a perfectionistic tyrant and an ‘insanely’ shrewd business genius, we give him too much credit by assuming that decisions made for the iStore’s policies are like laws passed in his own little software kingdom of clean and happy ‘apps’. The truth is, Apple Inc is bound by the federal laws of the United States, which unequivocally prohibit online gambling.
Contrary to the hegemonic image of Apple as a tough judge of software for its iStore (there is a relatively lengthy review period before apps are accepted for sale), it does not block online gambling in countries where it is legal. The iStore does offer many bingo apps and mobile apps, available everywhere and to everyone, which can be used to enjoy the game itself (with fake money), so it has no crusade against betting games themselves. Furthermore, iStores serving customers in countries that permit online gambling do sell them apps that enable real cash stakes; to its credit, it has also experimented with loosening rules on content, before tightening up again after it allegedly received complaints from families .
In 2010 and 2011 there have been reports of the ‘first’ iPhone bingo app or casino app that allows real stakes, but beyond the hype, again these are still bound by the geographically-defined legal codes that regulate or censure the online gambling business.
The distinction based upon geographical location that ends up determining what people can do online points to a situation that may be a shock for those generations who grew up using a virtually unregulated Internet and Web. At the moment, in terms of socially-questionable things like online betting, the threshold between an open and a closed Web lies in precisely how you access the Internet.
Using programs like iPhone and iPad apps, which are another layer removed from the free and open Internet-at-large, what you can do online will probably remain bound to the laws of your specific terra firma. By using the devises’ Web browsers, however, you may still play any gambling games that you can find. Yet according to some consumers, ‘[m]ost online casino software doesn’t work with Macs [‘in-the-browser’] , many of the few Mac-compatible casinos are so shady you wouldn’t want to play there anyway’ , which seems to demonstrate the strangling hold on innovation and even threat to online safety that draconian laws tend to affect.
This choice is between companies providing programs that act as a censor for you (by extending the reach of the governments in which they operate, while also locating you yourself when online so that applicable laws are enforced), or, using an open-source browser like Mozilla to access the raw (real) international Web. The choice is between a commercialized portal to the Web (for which you must accept a specific set of terms and conditions) and the Web itself (which burdens you only with a kind of global honour system).
The Powers that Be can make laws, and they can restrict domestic credit card companies from servicing gambling transactions, but oversight on such measures proves tedious or unmanageable ¾ indeed these sorts of measures are moot, because customers can use anonymous cash vouchers to gamble online wherever they are in the world. The raw Web is still free insofar as ordinary people can share things peer-to-peer and there is ‘net neutrality’ (consistent bandwidth and access regardless of consumers’ Web service arrangements). (Unfortunately both of these electronic infrastructures are liable to get modified by governments including the United States, unless challenged by their people.)
Finally, let’s take a look at the effects of ‘governance’ assimilated by softwares that access the Internet, which for players of online bingo games ‘means they can only be played in the country of purposeful purchase’ , as well as the effects upon our overall liberties as citizens of the Web and in our home country.
We have seen that Apple is not restricting its customers; Apple must simply comply with national laws in order to do business. The company has its own internal censors to block out questionable content, but after all, its customers are left to choose whether they enjoy i-products or not. It is the governance by our own governments ¾ in some cases through collusion with monopolistic corporations ¾ that seems to pose the greatest threat to a fully democratic Internet experience, which includes accessing player-funded bingo.
Sooner or later there will be a confrontation in the West between physical nationality and one’s orientation to the global network that most everyone loves. China and other repressive countries demonstrate how difficult it is to enforce its domestic laws over the Internet; ironically, China’s intelligence agency has become perhaps the world’s most tactically advanced ‘hacker’ spying on other nations and mega systems like Google. It remains to be seen whether the liberty that citizens are accustomed to enjoying as physical people will exert the most influence on the liberty they enjoy as virtual citizens, online. Or, perhaps the experience of going beyond one’s national Web servers, choosing to defy one’s country’s laws, will lead to people around the world to demand more concrete rights in their local and national communities?
One thing we know: Steve Jobs in not the boogie man, the party-pooper, of Internet gambling. We ourselves, as citizens, are more culpable for the state of legislation that dictates what we can and cannot do. In the United States, scholars of constitutional law have been warning Americans about the looming danger of ominously repressive ‘code’ starting to control our lives. The hidden gift in rows over real stakes bingo, and Internet gambling generally, may be in bringing issues of civil liberties to a newer global consciousness for the new millennium.