New Washington State Social-Gaming Lawsuits Seek to Expand “Entertainment” Value

Online Money Games. Internet Online Casino Concept Illustration 3D Rendered

Four new class-action lawsuits filed in Washington State against social-gaming operators seek to expand the traditional interpretation of “thing of value” in the hope of winning a judgment or settlement.

Fresh off a controversial Washington State appellate court decision that ruled some “free-to-play” online gambling offerings constitute illegal gambling activity under Washington law, a handful of new class-action lawsuits has emerged.

At least four new actions targeting online gaming companies have been filed in recent days. All four lawsuits were filed by the same Seattle law firm, Tousley Brain Stephens PLLC. Three of the four cases are on behalf of a single plaintiff, Sean Wilson, while the fourth is on behalf of a different resident of Washington State, Adrienne Benson.

The three class-action suits, featuring Wilson as the only named plaintiff to date, target three separate companies offering the free-to-play online games to Washington residents. Those three companies are Huuuge Games, High 5 Games, and Playtika. Playtika is also the parent company of Slotomania, the Internet’s largest social-gaming slot machine site.

Nominal amount was spent

Wilson spent only a nominal amount on the three sites, each of which offers purchases of play-money coins. Wilson spent roughly $20 in total, including $1.99 at High 5 Games, which offers the High 5 Casino and High 5 Vegas sites. Wilson purchased the play-money coins for use on the High 5 Casino site, according to a copy of the complaint obtained by VegasSlotsOnline.

The lawsuit with Benson as plaintiff targets two companies involved with free-to-play services available to Washington residents. Those defendants are DoubleDown Interactive LLC, the parent of DoubleDown Casino, and prominent gaming developer International Game Technology (IGT).

Benson spent rather more at DoubleDown Casino, being a relatively frequent purchaser of chip packages on that site. Benson has been playing the popular Double Down games on Facebook since 2013, according to the complaint, also obtained by VSO. The precise amount of her chip-package purchases is not specified, but is described as “over $1,000”.

All four lawsuits incorporate a highly similar series of allegations, differing only in background information on the defendant companies and the purchases made by the plaintiffs.

Some of the allegations made in the complaints may not be factually correct, though these and other matters will be examined as the cases progress. For example, under the “Nature of the Action” section of the Benson complaint, plaintiff’s counsel asserts:

3. Defendants provide a bundle of free “chips” to first-time visitors of its Double Down Casino that can be used to wager on its games. After consumers inevitably lose their initial allotment of chips, Defendants attempt to sell them additional chips starting at $2.99 for 300,000 chips. Without chips, consumers cannot play the gambling game.

4. Freshly topped off with additional credits, consumers wager to win more credits. The credits won by consumers playing Defendants’ games of chance are identical to the chips that Defendants sell. Thus, by wagering 300,000 chips that have been purchased for $2.99, consumers have the chance to win hundreds of thousands of additional chips that they would otherwise have to purchase.

It is not “inevitable” that players will lose their chips in these social-casino games, although it is highly probable over the long run. Also omitted, and certain to be brought up by the defense, that virtually all “free to play” sites offer frequent top-ups of play chips, often daily or every few hours. There are similar such omissions elsewhere in the complaints.

Another excerpt from the similar filings elaborates on the questions the plaintiffs’ counsel seeks to bring up in the case. As taken from the Wilson High 5 case:

a. Whether Defendant’s [High 5] online casino games are “gambling” as defined by [Washington gambling codes];

b. Whether Defendant is the proprietor for whose benefit the online casino games are played;

c. Whether Plaintiff and each member of the Class lost money or anything of value by gambling;

d. Whether Defendant violated the Washington Consumer Protection Act, []; and

e. Whether Defendant has been unjustly enriched as a result of its conduct.

Suits aim at settlements

“Plaintiff Wilson” might or might not be entitled to his $1.99 refund if the case goes his way, but the lawsuits are clear vehicles for the law firm involved to attempt to extract settlements from the named firms, as per this excerpt:

As a direct and proximate result of Defendant’s operation of its gambling game, Plaintiff Wilson and each member of the Class have lost money wagering at Defendant’s games of chance. Plaintiff Wilson, on behalf of himself and the Class, seeks an order (1) requiring Defendant to cease the operation of its gambling game; and/or (2) awarding the recovery of all lost monies, interest, and reasonable attorneys’ fees, expenses, and costs to the extent allowable.

The sought-after order would likely force many more firms offering these social games to block Washington State residents. However, it’s worth noting that these lawsuits are seeking a very liberal expansion of the appellate ruling in the Big Fish Casino case that appears to be the impetus for these suits. Here’s how one of the assertions in the “First Cause for Action” reads:

50. The “chips” Plaintiff and the Class had the chance of winning in Defendant High 5 Games’ online casino games are “thing[s] of value” under Washington law because they are credits that involve the extension of entertainment and a privilege of playing a game without charge.

The above attempts to reclassify both entertainment and an acknowledged privilege as things of value in a gambling sense, but by acknowledging that the game itself may be played “without charge” may spell trouble for these class-action efforts.

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