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Lawsuit filed against Apple for ‘Wild West’ of free-to-play casino games


A class action lawsuit was filed on Tuesday (February 16) targeting Apple for hosting and profiting from casino-style apps through the App Store.

The case relates specifically to social game developer Zynga, and was lodged with the US District Court for the Northern District of Columbia.

The suit takes issue with free-to-play casino-style games that offer micro-transactions and in-app purchases.

The plaintiffs said that Zynga’s casino-style apps violate a number of state statutes related to gambling, and that Apple is culpable in the case by providing iOS development tools, hosting the titles on the App Store and profiting from their sale.

The case alleges that as sole administrator of the App Store, Apple “permits and facilitates illegal gambling by operating as an unlicensed casino”, by allowing users to buy in-game coins or chips for use in games such as blackjack, roulette, poker, keno, bingo and other gambling-style games.

Most of the games mentioned in the suit offer users a limited number of chips to start. After players’ starting chips have been used, they must use real money to purchase additional chips to continue playing.

According to the plaintiffs, despite the fact that users cannot collect actual cash from the games, the system of paying money for a chance to win more playing time violates anti-gambling laws in the 25 states cited in the case.

The plaintiffs are seeking an injunction, damages, restitution and legal fees from Apple.

The suit also points our that consumer protection measures usually in place at real-money casinos are not included in this style of ‘freemium’ game.

Commenting on the activity of a customer he had reported on, journalist Nate Halverson said in the plaintiff’s filing: ”In a regular casino, they would have seen that she didn’t have the income to be spending $400k.”

“Further, she asked them nearly a dozen times to cut her off, told them she had a problem, that she couldn’t stop spending. And what did they do? They just gave her free chips and encouraged her to keep spending. That wouldn’t happen in a real casino. This is a wild west; this is a lawless land.”

A similar case was brought forward in California in January, claiming that Apple was participating in an “illegal internet gambling enterprise”.

That case listed fifty games that were available in the App Store, and was brought forward by two plaintiffs who each claimed to have lost over $15,000 through the games.

In June 2020, Apple faced another class action complaint alleging that it was complicit in or guilty of promoting gambling products to children, due to the inclusion of loot box mechanisms in games available through its App Store.