In a nutshell: Several casino gambling games have been popping up in Apple’s App Store disguised as kids games. While gambling games are not banned, they are region restricted. So while a casino app that operates online gambling can appear in the store in places like Italy or Turkey, they don’t show up in the US—until now.
Kosta Eleftheriou tweeted that he discovered a poorly made kids’ app called Jungle Runner 2k21. It’s a runner game where you control a monkey collecting bananas and avoiding obstacles—the exact formula used by thousands of other knockoffs, except less fun and more buggy. However, the developer did not care about the state of the game because it was not his primary purpose.
This @AppStore app pretends to be a silly platformer game for children 4+, but if I set my VPN to Turkey and relaunch it becomes an online casino that doesn’t even use Apple’s IAP.
— Kosta Eleftheriou (@keleftheriou) April 15, 2021
The developer Colin Malachi used the game to sneak a casino gambling app into the US App Store. Now understand, we are not talking about a slot machine game where you bet fake money—there are already tons of those. This one is an online casino where you can use real money or cryptocurrency to gamble. The app does not even use Apple’s in-app payment system. It really just turns the monkey game into the casino’s mobile web app using an in-app browser. Eleftheriou claims that some reviewers said they bought credits to play and got scammed out of a promised purchasing bonus.
Of course, the casino does not show up unless you know the secret, which is simply running a VPN set to a Turkish IP address. Once you do that, the icon remains the same on the Home screen, but the monkey game is replaced by a Turkish casino once opened. The Verge notes that another app by the same developer called “Magical Forest Puzzle” does the same thing but with a different casino. Apple has removed both apps since Gizmodo reported on it Thursday evening.
4.6 stars, with over 80,000 ratings, and a glowing 5-star “featured” review: pic.twitter.com/Aup1ehYTdk
— Kosta Eleftheriou (@keleftheriou) February 6, 2021
It is worth mentioning that Kosta Eleftheriou is the developer and founder of the Apple Watch keyboard app FlickType. If that sounds familiar, it’s because Eleftheriou is in the middle of an antitrust lawsuit with Apple that he filed last month. To say he has a bone to pick with the Cupertino tech giant would probably be an understatement. A quick scroll through his Twitter feed shows him to be a very vocal critic of the company.
That said, earlier this year, Eleftheriou uncovered multiple multimillion-dollar scams that have been running for months on the App Store. One was a poorly made astronomy app that was charging users $10 per week! Reviews were overwhelmingly negative and pointed out the scam, yet the app had over 80,000 five-star ratings—presumably all or most from fake accounts.
Apple has remained quiet on the matter.