Legal Ruling Declares High 5 Games' Mobile Apps Illegal in Washington

Legal Ruling Declares High 5 Games' Mobile Apps Illegal in Washington

After a protracted legal battle, two mobile apps offered by High 5 Games have been declared illegal in the state of Washington. Western Washington District Court Judge Tiffany Cartwright ruled that High 5 Casino and High 5 Vegas constitute online gambling, which is prohibited in the state.

Washington's Stance on Online Gambling

Washington law defines online gambling as any activity that requires users to stake value on the outcome of a game of chance or an event with a prize on offer for a certain outcome. This stringent classification has led many gaming operators, even those that describe themselves as social or casual, to avoid operating in Washington.

High 5 Games argued that its apps operate with virtual coins and are therefore merely "social casinos." However, the court found that High 5 Casino and High 5 Vegas closely emulate video slot machines, commonly found in physical casinos, and thus fall under the purview of online gambling laws.

Legal Violations and Consumer Protection

Judge Cartwright determined that High 5 Games' apps are prohibited under both the Washington Consumer Protection Act and the Recovery of Money Lost at Gambling Act. The verdict comes six years after High 5 Games player Rick Larsen first filed the suit.

The court specifically highlighted the promotion of illegal gambling through in-app purchases that required players to buy additional chips using real money. High 5 Games countered this by stating that players could use free coins given upon registration and periodically awarded, but the court found that users cannot play with regularity unless they are willing to pay. Washington law recognizes virtual currency as a "thing of value," even if it cannot be redeemed for cash.

Efforts to Cease Operations and Damages

High 5 Games stated that it has made efforts to cease its operations in Washington following the ruling. Despite this, Judge Cartwright ruled that the company is liable to pay damages to Rick Larsen and other plaintiffs affected by the illegal gambling. The amount of damages will be determined by a jury at a later date. SBC Americas has reached out to High 5 Games for their response on the verdict but has not yet received a statement.

Comparable Cases in Washington

This case echoes a similar situation with High 5 Games, Wilson vs. PTT, LLC, which is still active but has not progressed since early 2023. Judge Robert Lasnik ruled that online gaming companies DoubleDown Interactive and IGT also violated Washington state gambling laws. These companies offer games that are free to play initially but allow users to purchase additional chips with real money. Consumers essentially bet to acquire more chips, mirroring the mechanics of traditional gambling.

Quotes and Final Thoughts

"The undisputed material facts as to liability show that High 5’s games violate Washington’s gambling laws and the Consumer Protection Act," stated Judge Cartwright in her ruling.

As Washington continues to rigorously enforce its gambling laws, this ruling serves as a critical reminder for gaming operators to closely review and adhere to state regulations. The repercussions of this case may echo throughout the digital gaming industry, affecting how mobile games with monetization features are designed and offered to consumers.

In conclusion, the legal landscape for online games in Washington remains stringent, underlined by the recent ruling against High 5 Games. With further cases pending and ongoing enforcement by state authorities, game developers will need to navigate these legal waters with increased caution.