PokerStars Folds Play Money Games in Washington State Following Court Ruling that Bans Social Gaming

Posted on April 9th, 2018 by Alana Markoff

Even poker games that don’t involve the transfer of money are deemed illegal gambling in the state of Washington, per a recent court ruling. As a result, PokerStars has been forced to ban local residents from playing on its play money site.

PokerStars play money Washington

PokerStars has exited Washington and no longer offers play money games to residents due to a recent court ruling. (Image:

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a previous ruling that allowed social gambling in the state so long as there was no transfer of money.

The court’s recent decision now makes it illegal for citizens of the great state of Washington to play free money poker games online.

The ruling against Big Fish Casino, an internet gambling operator, may seem a bit silly considering no one playing play money games could lose any money unless they had a last-longer side bet with a fellow competitor.

But a legal panel determined that the use of virtual chips was enough to deem free money games a form of gambling.

Gambling Commission Responds

The Washington State Gambling Commission played no role in the court’s ruling but did release a public statement:

“Since the decision was published, we have become aware that some online social gaming websites, including Poker Stars, have proactively made the business decision to deny Washington residents access to their sites. We are not a party to the civil court case, we did not testify in the case, and we did not order these sites to discontinue free online play for Washington residents. Customers with concerns should contact these websites directly,” the statement read.

What Went Down

On March 28, the Ninth Circuit of the US Court of Appeals overturned a 2015 ruling in favor of Big Fish Casino, an internet gambling brand owned by Churchill Downs Inc, against a past customer, Cheryl Kater.

Kater claims she spent $1,000 worth of virtual chips on Big Fish Casino’s website and went to court to get her money back. Her argument was that the gambling operator was breaking the law by forcing players to pay a fee to play even though they couldn’t win real money.

That lawsuit was struck down in 2015, but the appellate court last month overruled that decision. In response to the court’s ruling, PokerStars and other poker sites have decided to pull the plug on play money games that were previously available to Washington residents to avoid potential legal troubles.

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