Jake Banks | 03 Apr 2018

Social casino games are being looked closely by US authoritiesSocial casino games have been under the looking glass for a while now, most prominently because they are free-to-play versions of real casino games like online slots, roulette and blackjack, and in essence, are accessible by all age groups and technically do not qualify as gambling because of the fact that the virtual chips used to play do not hold any monetary value.

A US Court of Appeals judge, however, recently ruled that Big Fish Casino does in fact constitute a form of gambling and as such, qualifies as illegal online gambling under Washington State Law. The ruling is expected to have far-reaching consequences for all operators offering social casino games within the online jurisdiction of the United States, as online gambling is illegal in most states.

A Thing Of Value

Big Fish Casino was developed by Seattle-based company Big Fish Games, a company promoting its games under the auspices of being casual social games. Online slots, blackjack and roulette are incorporated into the casino games and can be played without tendering any real money. However, as soon as a user runs out of free virtual chips, they have the option of either waiting for their chips to be replenished after a while, or to buy more chips using, obviously, real money.

This was cited as being the reasoning behind Judge Milan D. Smith’s ruling. Virtual chips obviously are a thing of value as real money is used to buy them. To this end, buying virtual chips with which to play games like Big Fish Casino, actually very obviously constitutes illegal online gambling.

The Nature Of Something

The initial lawsuit was instituted against the previous owners of Big Fish Games, the Kentucky-based casino operator Churchill Downs. Churchill Downs had bought Big Fish Games for $885 million and subsequently last year sold the company to Australian-based Aristocrat Technologies for $1 billion. The sale deal was concluded earlier this year.

The ruling will most definitely complicate future rulings as well as the overall future of social casino games. The nature of social casino games and whether they truly constitute online gambling is now directly in the line of fire, and future rulings may reflect the same reasoning that was applied by Judge Milan D. Smith.

The social casino market was worth in excess of $3 billion last year. Virtual currencies are the wager of choice in most social casino games.