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Washington State Lawsuit Targets Free Casino Games

This week we’re tackling a story about a Washington State lawsuit over free play casino games. Washington has been aggressive towards our industry, even when there is no money being wagered! And this suit against Big Fish games could have interesting implications for our industry. Links to gambling news stories, games reviews and special offers below.

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✴️ Class action lawsuit: Seattle-based Big Fish Games uses illegal gambling practices ✴️
A class action lawsuit was filed against Seattle-based Big Fish Games alleging they used illegal gambling practices in their mobile apps.

The complaint, filed Feb. 11 U.S. District Court in Western Washington, said that Big Fish Games, Inc., an app developer that makes “free-to-play” online casino games, used practices similar to casinos to “reap huge profits” while never paying out anything of monetary value.

The games start players off with a free, finite set of virtual chips they can use for slot machine and other casino-style games, the complaint said. After the chips run out, players can’t play anymore unless they buy chips through in-app offers or micro-transactions that start at 99 cents but can run up to hundreds or thousands of dollars.

In “social casino” games like the ones made by Big Fish Games, there’s no way to accumulate more chips unless you win them by wagering chips you already have, or by buying more, the lawsuit said. This is unlike other mobile games that give players the option of a paywall or to wait a certain amount of time to play after losing lives or credits.

The complaint said developers of the games “have begun exploiting the same psychological triggers as casino operators.” They referenced gaming publications like PC Gamer that wrote about the similarities of micro-transactions in video games to casinos.

Some that download the app don’t spend a dime on the game, but the complaint said the company depends on certain customers known as “whales,” similar to how casinos operate.

“Whales,” as they’re described in the complaint, make up a minuscule portion of the total players, but together can provide almost half of the revenue for the games.

The complaint said the games also contribute to gambling addicts who migrate from casino game apps to online gambling, through a study that linked the high revenue of “free-to-play” games and the low number of gamers who actually purchase in-app items.

Big Fish Games’ premier product is “Big Fish Casino, and brings in an annual revenue of over $100 million, and all of their casino games combined bring in revenues of over $200 million,” the complaint said.

When Big Fish Games was owned by Churchill Downs Inc., the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled the company’s practices constituted illegal gambling under Washington state law.

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