Aristocrat Leisure Ltd says it will “vigorously defend” a United States lawsuit that argues the tokens offered in some of its free social games have a value, making them elements in what amount to games of chance.
Aristocrat’s written statement said the company understands that the plaintiff, Manasa Thimmegowda, has launched a civil action in the U.S. District Court of Washington state seeking redress against Big Fish Games, Inc; the former owner of Big Fish Games, racetrack operator Churchill Downs Inc; Aristocrat Technologies Inc, a U.S. subsidiary of Aristocrat Leisure, and the Aristocrat parent itself.
Details of the class action became public on Tuesday, which led to the Australian slot-machine maker’s response, although the lawsuit was filed on February 11. Aristocrat Leisure said it had not received details of the suit.
Big Fish Games is a developer of online casino games in Seattle, Washington state, which Aristocrat Leisure bought early last year for US$990-million in cash. The Big Fish deal made Aristocrat Leisure the “second-largest social casino publisher globally by revenue” according to research from Eilers and Krejcik Gaming LLC, cited by the Aristocrat group at the time.
Months after the acquisition, a U.S. court ruled that playing Big Fish online games with virtual gaming chips, which cost nothing to begin with, amounted to illegal gambling in Washington. The virtual chips cannot be exchanged for cash, but a player that runs out of chips has to pay to get more to keep playing. The lawsuit said payments start at under US$1 but can run into hundreds of dollars. The games include virtual blackjack, poker and slot-machine games.
Australian newspaper the Sydney Morning Herald reported that the plaintiff was a former player of “Big Fish Casino” and had lost more than AUD3,000 (US$2,150) after a month’s play on the mobile phone app. The legal case says “online gambling games” break Washington state law, meaning the defendants “illegally profited from tens of thousands of customers”. The plaintiff is seeking to “recover her losses” and to seek “appropriate relief”.
The Seattle Post-Intelligencer website reports an email exchange with a lawyer representing Manasa Thimmegowda. “As we allege in our complaint, the mobile gambling industry, by design, preys on consumers by bringing additive gambling opportunities directly into their homes,” attorney Christopher Dore told the website.
Last September, JP Morgan Securities LLC said Aristocrat Leisure had generated a more-than-30-percent return on investment after acquiring several digital and social gaming companies, including Big Fish Games.
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