High 5 Games' Mobile Apps Ruled Illegal in Washington

High 5 Games' Mobile Apps Ruled Illegal in Washington

In a landmark decision, a prolonged legal battle has culminated with the Western Washington District Court ruling that two mobile apps offered by High 5 Games are illegal under state law. Judge Tiffany Cartwright determined that High 5 Casino and High 5 Vegas qualify as online gambling services, which are prohibited in Washington.

Understanding Washington's Gambling Laws

Washington State classifies online gambling as any activity requiring users to stake value on the outcome of a game of chance or an event, with prizes awarded based on specific outcomes. As such, even social gaming operators frequently steer clear of operating in Washington due to the stringent regulations. High 5 Games contended that their platforms were social casinos, employing virtual coins instead of real money. However, the court found that the nature of the games—emulating video slot machines found in brick-and-mortar casinos—constituted gambling under state law.

The Lawsuit and the Court's Findings

The case traces back six years to when High 5 Games player Rick Larsen filed the initial lawsuit. The court found that the apps were promoting illegal gambling by necessitating that players purchase additional chips using real money to continue playing. Although High 5 rebuffed these claims by stating that free coins were given upon registration and periodically awarded, the court noted that consistent gameplay was not viable without financial expenditure. Under Washington law, virtual currency is recognized as a “thing of value,” even in scenarios where it cannot be redeemed for cash.

Judge Cartwright's ruling emphasized, "The undisputed material facts as to liability show that High 5’s games violate Washington’s gambling laws and the Consumer Protection Act." Consequently, the verdict mandates High 5 Games to cease operations within Washington and hold the company liable for damages to Larsen and other plaintiffs, to be determined by a jury.

Wider Implications for Online Gaming

This ruling could have broader implications for the online gaming industry. A separate but related case involving High 5 Games, Wilson vs. PTT, LLC, remains active but has seen little progress since early 2023. In another precedent-setting decision, Judge Robert Lasnik previously ruled against DoubleDown Interactive and IGT, stating that these companies also violated Washington's gambling laws. Like High 5, these platforms operate on a freemium model, where users can play for free but are incentivized to purchase additional chips for extended gameplay.

Reactions and Future Actions

High 5 Games has indicated that they have made efforts to stop operating within Washington State. As this resonates across the industry, other online casino and gaming operators may reevaluate their compliance frameworks to avoid similar legal fallout. SBC Americas has reached out to High 5 Games for comment on the ruling but has yet to receive a response.

The legal landscape for online gaming in Washington exemplifies the complex interplay between evolving digital entertainment platforms and state regulations. As more states reevaluate and update their gambling laws to reflect the digital age, rulings like these serve as critical benchmarks for defining legal boundaries and operational compliance.