Game Show Network Sued for Its Free-Play Casino Games

GSN Gaming Site Lawsuit - Game Show Network Court Case

Elise Bell’s lawyer argues GSN’s free to play gaming site’s tokens are a thing of value.

Game Show Network is the latest free-play online gaming site to be hit with a lawsuit. The plaintiff claims GSN gaming site is really an illegal gambling site and is suing for damages.

GSN’s gaming site is free-to-play, though players can make in-game purchases. Casino tokens are not real money and they replenish over time. If a player does not want to wait for the tokens to replenish, they can pay money to receive new coins.

It is this aspect of the game which Elise Bell, a former player on the GSN website, claims makes the site illegal. Bell claims she became addicted to playing the freeplay game, then spent money to keep playing at a faster clip than the freeplay version would allow.

To press her claim, Elise Bell to file a lawsuit against the GSN earlier last week in U.S. District Court in Tacoma. She claimed that they constitute illegal online gambling under Washington state law.

Elise Bell’s Charges against GSN

Bell’s lawsuit alleges that she lost $700 on the company’s casino games. The games are advertised as free. Game Show Network offers a several free-to-play games. These games are what you would find in a casino, such as slots and blackjack.

The games use virtual tokens that have no monetary value. The players can continue to play as long as they have tokens. If the players run out, they can do one of two things: wait until the game offers more free tokens or purchase hundreds of thousands of tokens for a few dollars.

Elise Bell’s lawsuit claims that the tokens represent “something of value,” a vague term used in Washington state gaming laws which refer to “gambling games” of chance. Bell’s lawyers claim that the tokens have value, because they are vital to playing the game.

Legal Brief in GSN Lawsuit

In the legal brief associated with the lawsuit, Elise Bell’s lawyers write, “Defendant’s online gambling games are illegal gambling games because they are online games at which players wager things of value (the tokens) 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 tokens).”

A federal appeals court ruling against gaming heavyweight Big Fish Games back in March seems to have opened the eyes of many Seattle and Tacoma game enthusiasts, or at least the lawyers who might represent such players. At least six cases, including the one involving GSN, have been filed against several online casino publisher in U.S. District Court in Seattle and Tacoma since the beginning of April.

The list of gaming companies targeted in the lawsuits includes Huuuge Games, DoubleDown Interactive, High 5 Games, Scientific Games, and Playtika.

Tousley Brain Stephens: Anti-Gaming Lawyer

Tousley Brain Stephens is representing each of the plaintiffs. All of which are seeking class action status. The same claim seems to be consistent in each of the lawsuits. The plaintiffs each place the allegations on the “something of value” clause as a primary argument.

Though none of the recent cases have seen its final verdict yet and the claim against “something of value” is still in question, it did contribute to be an important part of a successful argument in federal court against Big Fish parent Churchill Downs.

Big Fish Games Lawsuit

Judge Milan D. Smith of the Ninth Circuit of U.S. Court of Appeals wrote an opinion on the Big Fish Games case in March, “Without virtual chips, a user is unable to play Big Fish Casino’s various games. Thus, if a user runs out of virtual chips and wants to continue playing Big Fish Casino, she must buy more chips to have ‘the privilege of playing the game.'”

“Likewise, if a user wins chips, the user wins the privilege of playing Big Fish Casino without charge. In sum, these virtual chips extend the privilege of playing Big Fish Casino.”

Online gambling lawsuits are not uncommon, though the gaming companies usually come out on top. In regard to the Big Fish ruling, Judge Smith’s opinion was an unexpected breakthrough for those going after the big companies. That case, however, remains ongoing, so it is still uncertain how much of an impact Judge Smith’s opinion will have in the long term. Churchill Downs has petitioned for a re-hearing of its case to be put in front of the appeals court.

Freeplay Casino Games Sites

Casual games have become a huge business. These easy-to-play games have simplified tasks and controls, which appeal to large audiences ranging in all ages. They are a huge business, according to JP Morgan. The lawsuits cite a JP Morgan analyst, who estimated that, in 2016, free-to-play “games of chance generated over $3.8 billion in worldwide revenue.”

That revenue is expected to see a growth of 10 percent annually, so one can imagine the revenue generated from free games sites should be over $4 billion in 2018.

A lot of popular online games you will find today use in-app purchases as a revenue driver, such as buying chips, extra loves, or diamonds. Loot boxes follow a similar concept for games which tend to cost money to play. In-game enhancements of any kind convince a player hooked to the game to spend a little more for some perceived advantage.

GSN Lawsuit’s Legal Brief

That is the argument Tousley Brain Stephens is making. Brain Stephens’ legal brief made the comparison between loot boxes and in-game purchase in free casino games, calling each a micro-transaction based game.

The brief said, “The similarity between micro-transaction-based games of chance and games of chance found in casinos has caused governments across the world to intervene to limit their availability. Unfortunately, such games have eluded regulation in the United States.”

“As a result…[the] defendant’s online gambling games have thrived and thousands of consumers have spent millions of dollars unwittingly playing Defendant’s unlawful games of chance.”

Defenders of sites like the GSN and Big Fish Games casino games sites would argue that no visitor would be under the impression their purchases could lead to winning prizes, so their games are not gambling-related at all. Elise Bell spent her $700 of her own free will, knowing full well that she was not going to win money on the free slots and free blackjack games on GSN. If a person can sue because they later regretted spending money on a form of entertainment, then a whole category of games, contests, and shows might be sued from customers who decided later they did not enjoy their hobby enough.