Big Fish Games Reaches $155 Million Settlement over Online Gambling Games

Kater et al. v. Churchill Downs Inc. et. al.
Case no: 15-cv-00612
Thimmegowda v. Big Fish Games Inc. et al.
Case no: 19-cv-00199
United States District Court for the Western District of Washington
Noting date: June 2, 2020

Game developer Big Fish Games reached a $155 million class action settlement agreement over its online “free-to-play” gambling games on iOS, Android, and Facebook. In the now-settled lawsuit, Plaintiffs alleged that Big Fish Games illegally profited from its games, violated Washington consumer protection law, and were unjustly enriched through its games.

In Big Fish’s games, players are given free chips with one “Daily Spin.” After the player loses those free starter chips, they are shown offers to purchase additional chips in game for real life money. The plaintiffs alleged that these free chips were intended to get players hooked on Big Fish’s games so that they would spend their real money to buy more chips to keep playing.

Both lawsuits were filed in Washington, where online and virtual gambling is illegal. Particularly, the case Rousso v. State of Washington held that all online and virtual gambling is illegal in Washington per RCW § 9.46.240, which criminalizes transmitting gambling information over the Internet. Washington’s “Recovery of money lost at gambling” statute, RCW § 4.24.070, provides a cause of action for people who lose money or anything of value on illegal gambling games to recover the amount of money lost from the person or entity who benefited from the game.

In the suits, the plaintiffs claimed that the chips they could win and buy in Big Fish Games’s online gambling games were “things of value” under RCW § 9.46.0285 because “they are credits that involve the extension of entertainment and a privilege of playing a game without charge.” Plaintiffs further alleged that the defendants violated Washington’s Consumer Protection Act, RCW § 19.86.020, which prohibits “unfair methods of competition or unfair or deceptive acts or practices.” The plaintiffs also argued that Big Fish Games was unjustly enriched because its games were illegal and the money generated from those games are unjustly obtained.

This settlement ends two major class action lawsuits against Big Fish Games and its owners. In the first lawsuit, the plaintiffs sued Churchill Downs (of the Kentucky Derby), which purchased Big Fish in 2014. In the second lawsuit, the plaintiffs sued both Big Fish and Aristocrat Leisure Ltd., which purchased Big Fish from Churchill Downs in 2018. In a press release, Aristocrat revealed that it will pay $31 million, while Churchill Downs will pay $124 million. The $155 million will be put into a non-reversionary fund so that, in the event that the entire sum is not distributed among class members, the defendants will not get any remaining money back.

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