The United States Supreme Court’s interest in intellectual property cases has waxed and waned over the decades. Under Chief Justice Roberts, however, the Court has shown a renewed willingness to take on such matters, and the Court’s recent decision in American Broadcasting Company, Inc. v. Aereo, Inc. (“ABC v. Aereo”), is just one example. Increasingly in these cases, the Roberts Court finds itself having to apply decade’s old intellectual property laws—in this case the 1976 Copyright Act—to technologies that were, at best, the subject of science fiction when the laws were written.
The technology in ABC v. Aereo involved the retransmission of over-the-air broadcasts by Aereo to its subscribers. Specifically, Aereo would capture over-the-air broadcasts and make them available to its subscribers either in real time or for playback at a later time. Aereo subscribers could view the programming on any number of platforms, particularly laptops and mobile devices. The Court found that Aereo’s service infringed the copyrights in the underlying broadcasted programs.
So what does this mean for mobile gambling?
Mobile gaming on smart phones and tablets is projected to be a $100 billion industry by 2017.1 If those projections come even close to being accurate, a myriad of means for tapping into that market—i.e., innovation—will ensue. Already, virtual casinos—a program or app that simulates the real-life casino experience and casino games—are popping up.
But what about programs and apps that are non-virtual or quasi-non-virtual—i.e., based on the real-life action occurring at a live table game? Companies that fill this niche will allow casinos to cater to customers who are not particularly fond of true virtual gambling but also by extension, and perhaps more importantly, increase the casino’s revenue per square foot, for example, for a sports book or a live table game.2 Already, sports book-style betting apps have sprung up for smart phones and users in particular jurisdictions, like Nevada. In Asia, where table game revenues dwarf slot revenues, apps for betting on live table games could be “the next big thing.” But, in all of these areas, programmers and app developers must not run afoul of the copyright laws, particularly if transmitting or retransmitting live games and gaming results.
The most obvious, and likely simplest, means for transmitting live games and gaming results is providing a video feed through an app. The major sporting leagues are already doing this through their own apps—i.e., one can watch their favorite team on a laptop or mobile device while traveling—but, obviously, such apps lack wagering functionality for a whole host of reasons.
Few systems exist today that would allow a mobile gambler to interface with a live table game in a robust manner. Simply providing a video feed of live table games faces numerous shortcomings. Privacy and regulatory issues would abound. And such an experience, from the mobile gambler’s perspective, would be far from immersive.
As programmers and developers begin creating mobile means for interfacing with a live table game, there will necessarily be transmissions or re-transmissions of what is going on at the real-life table to the mobile gamblers—for example, what bets are on a roulette table or what numbers have come up in past games (“trends”). Such programs and apps will not only implicate the copyright issues decided by the Roberts Court in ABC v. Aereo but also raise a whole host of novel intellectual property issues not yet fathomed by the Court. And should the Court’s zest for intellectual property cases continue, the breadth of new technologies with which it must grapple is sure to expand. That is one trend on which you can bet.
1 Mobile Gambling: Casinos, Lotteries & Betting 2012-2017, Juniper Research, 23 May 2012.
2 Casinos, typically, have not been the innovators of new technologies, but rather the adopters. Assuming this pattern continues, mobile gambling technologies are likely to be developed at non-casino companies and then pitched to casinos for adoption.
Ryan J. Cudnik, Watson Rounds