Big fish faces class action suit over illegal online casino games

Social games publisher Big Fish Games has been hit by another lawsuit questioning the legality of its social casino games in Washington
Big Fish Games, along with its new owner Aristocrat Leisure, has been named as a defendant in a class action lawsuit filed last week in the US District Court for the Western District of Washington at Seattle.

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Plaintiff Manasa Thimmegowda is leading the lawsuit. She said in her legal complaint that by operating Big Fish Casino and a number of similar social casino games, Big Fish and Aristocrat have violated Washington’s gambling law. Online gambling is currently illegal in the state.

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Ms. Thimmegowda started playing Big Fish Casino on her smartphone in November 2017. She said in her legal complaint that she spent more than $3,000 over the course of a single month to purchase virtual chips that she needed to continue playing.

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Players can only play Big Fish’s casino games if they are in possession of the so-called virtual chips. First-time players are provided with a bundle of free chips that can be used to play the games. However, once these run out, players need to buy additional chips in order to be able to continue playing.
Ms. Thimmegowda, on her behalf and on behalf of other players, seeks damages and treble damages from Big Fish and Aristocrat.

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Washington Court Says Big Fish Casino “Constitutes Illegal Gambling”
Big Fish’s legal troubles in Washington date back years. In 2015, a Washington player sued the social games studio and its then owner Churchill Downs, seeking damages for being encouraged to buy chips for real money to play Big Fish’s casino games.

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The US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit issued a ruling last year, saying that the virtual chips used in Big Fish Casino were “a thing of value” and that purchasing such chips for real money represented illegal online gambling under Washington law.
The new legal complaint against Big Fish states that the proliferation of smartphones has led to a growth of what has been referred to “free-to-play” games. However, the “term is a misnomer”, the complaint goes on as it refers to a model which offers games that are free to download, but companies then “reap huge profits by selling thousands of “in-app” items” that start at just a few cents but “can quickly escalate to hundreds and even thousands of dollars.”

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Aristocrat said in a statement from earlier today that it intends to “vigorously defend the action.” The Australian gaming giant purchased Big Fish Games from Churchill Downs last January for nearly $1 billion. The company wanted to boost its digital arm, which now accounts for nearly 38% of its total revenue.
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