A court decision over Big Fish Casino [Free] might have a major impact on the mobile casino genre. An appeals court overturned a lower court’s ruling dismissing a case saying that Big Fish Casino constitutes illegal gambling under Washington state law. Circuit Judge Milan D. Smith, Jr. said in the ruling:
In this appeal, we consider whether the virtual game platform “Big Fish Casino” constitutes illegal gambling under Washington law. Defendant-Appellee Churchill Downs, the game’s owner and operator, has made millions of dollars off of Big Fish Casino. However, 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. 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.
Now, this isn’t the end of casino games as we know them…yet. This appeals court ruling just makes it so that the case can go to trial, unless Big Fish’s lawyers decide to appeal the case to the Supreme Court. This case is also a potential class action lawsuit, and if you’ve ever seen the results of class action lawsuits, they usually result in some nominal compensation for users, perhaps a few changes made to how a company operates, but rarely bring forth massive changes. Also, this case originally started in 2015, so it’s likely that redress will not come until the far-off future if at all.
However, this should scare the developers of mobile casino games a bit. Several titles are in the top grossing charts, including Slotomania Slots [Free]. These games are big business, and if legal issues make them untenable, even just in certain jurisdictions, then it might have an impact on many companies and the mobile gaming market as a whole.
While the appeal of mobile casino games migth seem bewildering, they provide the thrill of, well, gambling, while letting people do it from their phone. The catch is that t’s quite likely that most people aren’t paying, since the games do offer ways to play for free. Of course, while there are prizes to redeem, there’s no easy way to turn tokens into cash. But, it’s still going for many of the elements that constitute gambling, an activity that requires regulation because of the way that it can trigger addiction in people. Legally, this case is complicated, and so are the ethics! Will Big Fish Casino survive this legal challenge? Should it? The coming years might lead to interesting circumstances.