Judge Orders Big Fish Games To Pay $155M in Class Action Lawsuit

  • A judge has ordered Big Fish Gaming to pay $155 million in a class action settlement after losing in federal court.
  • The court ruled that Big Fish Gaming was illegally running online gambling in Washington state through its social gaming platform.
  • Since the settlement, Big Fish Gaming has laid off 250 employees.

OLYMPIA, Wash. – Former Churchill Downs and now Aristocrat Technologies subsidiary Big Fish Games has just lost big in court.

The lawsuit was brought forth by Washington legislator Cheryl Kater who, after an extensive overview of the gaming platform, deemed them to be running online gambling illegally despite claiming their freemium games were indeed free.

The legislator's original dispute was thrown out by the US District Court in 2016 but was appealed in 2018. A new judge agreed with Kater's complaints, ordering Big Fish Games to pay players who lost money in their Big Fish Casino.

Fish Out Of Water

The USA online casino was operating under the guise of being social gaming.  The site itself was free, and all the chips that were used in the game were in-game currency.

The core issue that Kater had is that the in-game chips could be purchased with real money and that the site was ultimately incentivizing players to spend real money by limiting the amount of free chips they can earn.

“Big Fish portrays itself as a “social gaming” platform, but that phrase means something very different to Big Fish than it does to the average person,” said Kater in her official dispute. “The main social units of Big FishCasino are called “clubs,” and they are specifically designed to use social pressure to increase the amount of money people spend on its games. Clubs are groups of people who band together in a group and compete with other clubs by playing Big Fish Casino slot machines together to win special bonuses and prizes. The more chips club members win, the more bonuses they get. In the “competitive” clubs, Big Fish warns that members are generally “expected to follow certain Club rules in terms of competing and funding.” (Ex. D.) The club leaders, who are other Big Fish Players, have the ability to kick players out of clubs if they are not contributing to the club by buying, wagering, and winning chips. (See Ex. E.) Big Fish tells club leaders who are considering kicking out a member that they should “[c]heck if they’re funding the Club first, from the ‘Members’ page. Losing funding members makes it more difficult to level up the Club– leveling up the Club allows for a larger Club and bigger Club Challenges and bigger Challenge rewards.”

Kater also issued issues of mobile gaming addiction and argued that Big Fish Casino was exploiting this in a way of making money.

In addition to the $155 million to be paid, Big Fish Games must also establish a voluntary self-exclusion policy for players that would allow them to remove themselves from further gameplay.

They must also allow resources related to video game behavior disorder and are forced to change the in-game mechanics of all its apps moving forward, making it so that players are able to play after running out of virtual chips.

Lay Offs

After being dubbed a USA online gambling platform and being forced to pay the settlement, Big Fish Games laid off 250 employees across the board. This is almost half the company’s workforce.

“The scale that Big Fish developed over many years as a multi-platform publisher has made it difficult to successfully lead in mobile, which requires greater agility and different operating and creative capabilities,” said Andrew Pedersen, co-president of Big Fish Games in a memo issued to employees. “By pivoting how we operate and sharpening focus, we will gain increased flexibility to engage players more effectively today and invest more for the future.”

With the company restructuring following the settlement, it is going to be interesting to see how Big Fish Games moves forward.