High 5 Games’ Social Casino Apps Ruled Illegal by Washington Judge, Liable for Damages

A federal judge in Washington state has declared that two social casino apps operated by New York-based High 5 Games are illegal. Western Washington District Court Judge Tiffany Cartwright’s ruling makes the company liable for damages under the state’s Recovery of Money Lost at Gambling Act (RMLGA).

Judge Cartwright agreed with the plaintiff, former player Rick Larsen, that the games violated Washington’s Consumer Protection Act (CPA) and the RMLGA. Larsen initiated the class-action lawsuit against High 5 Games in 2018.

Case Background

High 5 Casino and High 5 Vegas players receive virtual coins for free upon registration on platforms like Facebook, Google Play, and the App Store. Once they deplete their virtual currency, they must purchase additional coins with real money to continue playing. Court documents revealed that Larsen spent $7,470.50 on the apps.

Larsen argued that the apps promoted illegal gambling by requiring players to purchase additional chips with real money. High 5 countered that players could use the free coins they receive upon registration and periodically thereafter, without needing to spend real money. However, Cartwright referred to prior district court rulings, stating that users cannot play regularly unless they pay.

Washington’s law uniquely recognizes virtual currency as a “thing of value,” even if it cannot be redeemed for cash. Although games like High 5 are free to play, users can pay for extra chips. The lawsuit claimed consumers bet to acquire more chips than they would otherwise need to buy.

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The RMLGA states, “Persons losing money or anything of value on any illegal gambling games shall have a cause of action to recover from the proprietor for whose benefit such game was played the value of the thing so lost.” As a class-action lawsuit, anyone who purchased virtual currency for one of the apps in Washington after April 9, 2014, could qualify for a damages payout.

Subpoenas served by Larsen’s lawyers on Amazon, Apple, Google, and Facebook showed that Washington residents spent over $21.6 million on the apps between 2014 and 2023. However, the judge did not accept this as a definitive figure, stating that damages should be determined by a jury after further discovery.

Washington’s strict gambling laws classify online gambling as “anything 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 has led many gaming operators, even social ones, to avoid the state.

High 5 Games argued that it operates with virtual coins and does not constitute gambling, claiming to be a “social casino” that emulates video slot machines in physical casinos. Nevertheless, Cartwright stated that the games are prohibited under the Washington CPA and RMLGA. “The undisputed material facts as to liability show that High 5’s games violate Washington’s gambling laws and the Consumer Protection Act,” she wrote.

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High 5 Games claims it has tried to cease operations in Washington by geoblocking players and verifying their addresses.

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