Washington Class-Action Lawsuit Filed against Big Fish Games

Big Fish Games Lawsuit Washington

Big Fish Games lost a similar lawsuit in the spring of 2018, which likely encouraged the recent filing.

Christopher Dore recently filed a new class-action lawsuit in the U.S. District Court in Western Washington against Big Fish Games, a Seattle-based free-to-play online casino games site. Dore filed the Big Fish Games suit on February 11.

The complaint argues that Big Fish Games touts itself as a free-to-play social gaming sites, but the games it offers are really a form of gambling. Visitors to the site receive virtual credits for free-play gaming, but must buy new credits if they run through their free credits.

Christopher Dore said in an email reply to Komo News, a local radio station with ties to ABC News and Sinclair Broadcasting, “As we allege in our complaint, the mobile gambling industry, by design, preys on consumers by bringing additive gambling opportunities directly into their homes.”

The plaintiffs’ lawyer added, “We look forward to proving that companies are aware that many of their customers fall victim to these gambling games, with significant negative impacts on their lives financially and otherwise.”

What is Big Fish Games?

Big Fish Games is owned by Aristocrat Leisure, an Australian gaming machine manufacturer which has expanded its US operations in the past 10 years. In December 2017, Aristocrat bought Big Fish Games from Churchill Downs Inc. for $990 million.

Churchill Downs bought Big Fish Games in 2014 for $850 million, but sold the social gaming site just months before it lost a similar 2018 lawsuit.

Sues Three Gaming Companies

The lawsuit alleges that three entities — Big Fish Games, Aristocrat Technologies Inc, and Churchill Downs Incorporated — operate illegal online casino games. The lawyers for the plaintiffs claim, because customers spent real money to buy credits, those credits are a “thing of value”. Gaming for a “thing of value” is considered gambling in the State of Washington, so the case revolves around the legal status of in-game purchases of credits which are worthless outside the game.

Christopher Dore cited PC Gamer in his court filings, claiming that the same Big Fish Games uses psychological triggers to convince problem gamblers to spend a lot of money on free-to-play gaming sites. The lawsuit claims that Big Fish Games and sites like them “have begun exploiting the same psychological triggers as casino operators.”

Big Fish Games and Whales

The complaint states that a tiny percentage of “whales”, a borrowed gambling term which references high rollers and big spenders in casinos, make up as much as 50% of the revenue stream for Big Fish Games. These whales, then, are seen as victims of the predatory behavior of free-to-play casino sites.

The February 11th filing states, “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.”

Mr. Dore admits that many customers on the site never spend a dime at Big Fish Games. Their virtual credits replenish after a time, so they need never make a purchase on the site — if they are patient. But it is the techniques used to convince other registrants to spend money that is the problem.

What is a Social Casino Site?

Several social gaming sites dominate the market: Zynga, Playtika (Slotomania), Big Fish Games, and Double Down Casino. Each takes a slightly different approach to free-to-play social casino games, but most allow free gaming on casino-style games with the ability to make in-app purchases.

Some casino operators have free online casino sites. For instance, PlayMGM is a free downloadable gaming app from MGM Resorts. Players get free credits, but they can win comps and other rewards at brick-and-mortar casinos owned by MGM Resorts.

MGM Resorts collects personal information for their database that helps them market to people who enjoy casino games, while also offering them incentives to visit one of their resorts. The company knows anyone who comes with free comps will spend money in some way at their properties, so it is a good way to generate business through free gaming.

Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods Casino, the two tribal casinos in Connecticut, also has free-play casino sites that operate in select states. Once again, these casino sites do not allow real money play, but they do allow the tribes to collect marketing information. They also allow them to create an online and mobile footprint in case online gambling ever becomes legal in Connecticut, or elsewhere the companies have land-based casinos.

Aristocrat Leisure’s Reply

Big Fish Games has not yet filed a reply to the February 11 lawsuit, but such an answer should be forthcoming soon.