In Washington State, class action lawsuits have been filed against four social gaming sites in which the operators are alleged to have violated state law by charging customers to compete in play money casino games. Those followed suit on a case against online site Big Fish Casino that had been initially dismissed back in 2015 when filed by a player, but was then overturned by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in March.
How It Got This Far
Cheryl Kater, a customer of Big Fish Casino, filed a lawsuit against the social casino in 2015, claiming she paid for play money chips which, of course, have no monetary value to the customer.
She lost that case at the time, but last month, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the ruling. Judge Milan D. Smith ruled that “free play” casino chips represent a “thing of value,” making them a violation of Washington State Revenue Code § 9.46.0285.
In response to the court’s ruling, PokerStars blocked Washington residents from accessing its play money site to avoid any potential legal issues.
PokerStars doesn’t charge a penny to play free money poker games, unlike Big Fish Casino, but the court has determined that virtual casino chips represent a “thing of value,” which, in turn, constitutes gambling. And since online gambling isn’t legal in Washington State, even seemingly harmless play money casino games are illegal.
Online Social Casinos Feel the Brunt
In response to the court’s March ruling, two consumers have filed lawsuits over the past week against four social casinos – Double Down Interactive, Playtika, High 5 Games, and Huuuge Games – for violating state law.
One of the lawsuits names Double Down Casino, an app that gives customers a daily allotment of chips to play slot machines and table games with the option to purchase additional play money chips. Plaintiff Adrienne Benson says she spent approximately $1,000 playing “free” games on Double Down. Gamemaker IGT is also named in the suit.
“Double Down Casino games are illegal gambling games because they are online games at which players wager things of value (the chips) and by an element of chance (e.g., by spinning an online slot machine) are able to obtain additional entertainment and extend gameplay (by winning additional chips),” the lawsuit states.
The second plaintiff, Sean Wilson, claims he lost all of $20 paying for games that he could have played for free, and is now suing Huuuge, High 5, and Playtika (along with Caesars Interactive Entertainment) social casinos for damages.
The conflicts between individual state rulings, often foreign operators, and the innately murky and varying definitions of “gambling” pretty much guarantee these won’t be the last of these social gaming lawsuits, which is not good news for the American internet gambling landscape.