Legal Ruling on High 5 Games Apps in Washington State

In a significant legal decision, two mobile apps developed by High 5 Games have been ruled illegal in the state of Washington. The ruling was delivered by Judge Tiffany Cartwright of the Western Washington District Court, marking a definitive stance on how online gambling laws are applied to mobile gaming applications.

High 5 Casino and High 5 Vegas Ruled Illegal

Judge Cartwright determined that High 5 Casino and High 5 Vegas fall under the category of online gambling, which is strictly prohibited in Washington. The state classifies online gambling as any activity that necessitates staking value on the outcome of a game of chance or an event that offers a prize based on a certain outcome. Therefore, these apps, which emulate video slot machines commonly found in physical casinos, were found in violation of Washington’s gambling laws.

The Legal Framework

High 5 Games contended that their apps operate using virtual coins and function as "social casinos." However, under Washington law, even virtual currency is considered a "thing of value," regardless of whether it can be redeemed for cash. This legal nuance proved critical in Judge Cartwright's decision. The judge found that players were required to purchase additional chips using real money, a direct promotion of illegal gambling according to state statutes.

The Laws Violated

The court's decision specifically cited violations of two state laws: the Washington Consumer Protection Act and the Recovery of Money Lost at Gambling Act. High 5 Games was therefore held liable for damages, which will be determined by a jury at a later date. The decision follows a prolonged six-year legal battle initiated by High 5 Games player Rick Larsen, underscoring the complexities and lengthiness often involved in such cases.

Response and Repercussions

High 5 Games has claimed efforts to cease operations in Washington following the verdict. Despite this, Western Washington has become a challenging market for many gaming operators, even those offering what are traditionally considered social games. The company argued that users can utilize free coins provided during registration and periodically thereafter. However, the court noted that playing regularly without purchasing additional in-game currency was not feasible.

The Broader Context

This ruling against High 5 Games is not an isolated case. Another ongoing legal battle, Wilson vs. PTT, LLC, involves High 5 Games but has seen little progress since early 2023. Judge Robert Lasnik, presiding over a related case, has already determined that other online gaming companies, such as DoubleDown Interactive and IGT, similarly violated Washington state gambling laws. These companies' games, much like those from High 5 Games, allow users to play for free initially but offer the option to purchase more chips, which drives their classification as online gambling under state law.

Undisputed Facts

Judge Cartwright’s ruling was clear and unambiguous. "The undisputed material facts as to liability show that High 5’s games violate Washington’s gambling laws and the Consumer Protection Act," Cartwright stated. This ruling sets a precedent for how online gaming applications, particularly those involving virtual currencies and social casino models, are to be treated under Washington’s stringent anti-gambling laws.

Awaiting High 5 Games' Response

As of yet, SBC Americas has not received a formal response from High 5 Games regarding the verdict. The gaming community awaits their next steps, which could include further legal action or compliance adjustments to adhere to Washington's legal requirements.

The ruling serves as a crucial reminder to developers and operators within the rapidly evolving mobile and online gaming sectors. While virtual currencies and in-game purchases blur the lines between social and traditional gambling, state laws like those in Washington remain stringent and uncompromising.

As the legal landscape continues to evolve, industry stakeholders will undoubtedly watch closely. The outcome of the jury's decision on damages and the potential ripple effects on similar cases and companies will significantly influence the future of mobile gaming in regulated markets.