Big Fish Casino video game constitutes illegal online gambling
A federal appeals court ruled Wednesday that Big Fish Games’ Big Fish Casino constitutes illegal online gambling, according to Washington state law, in a case that could have major implications for the casual games market.new casinos
Big Fish Casino is a series of games like slots, blackjack and roulette that use virtual chips. The chips have no monetary value themselves, but players can only play as long as they have chips. If they run out, they have to wait until the game offers more free chips or they can buy more chips and jump back in.
“Without virtual chips, a user is unable to play Big Fish Casino’s various games,”Judge Milan D. Smith of the Ninth Circuit of U.S. Court of Appeals wrote in his opinion Wednesday. “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.”
The legal dispute dates back to 2015 when Cheryl Kater sued Big Fish’s then-parent company Churchill Downs. She claims to have spent more than $1,000 on Big Fish Casino virtual chips. The suit argued that the chips represent “something of value,” a vague clause within Washington state law governing gambling.
In 2016, a U.S. District Court Judge in Seattle threw out Kater’s complaint. Today’s decision reverses that ruling.Despite collecting millions in revenue, Churchill Downs, like Captain Renault in Casablanca, purports to be shocked — shocked! — to find that Big Fish Casino could constitute illegal gambling. We are not,” Milan wrote.
Smith continued: “We therefore reverse the district court and hold that because Big Fish Casino’s virtual chips are a ‘thing of value,’ Big Fish Casino constitutes illegal gambling under Washington law.”
In addition to the “something of value” argument, Kater argues that Big Fish Casino players are able to “cash out” on their virtual chips by agreeing to sell them for real money on a secondary market and then transferring them to other users. The appeals court rejected that argument because Big Fish prohibits those transactions in its terms of service.
This microscope on Big Fish comes as it is under changing ownership. Churchill Downs purchased Big Fish Games in 2014 for $885 million. Three years later, it agreed to sell Big Fish to Australia-based Aristocrat Technologies for $990 million.