Aristocrat Leisure Limited Settles Social Gaming Lawsuits

Aristocrat Leisure Limited

Aussie pokies machine maker Aristocrat Leisure Limited has drawn a line under two class-action lawsuits in the United States. A US district court approved a $155 million settlement first announced last year.

Both lawsuits came after players in Washington claimed Aristocrat Leisure Limited illegally profited from its social casino operation. Aristocrat Leisure Limited owns a handful of social gaming platforms, including Big Fish Casino, Epic Diamond Slots, and Jackpot Magic Slots.

Big Fish features several social games like pokies, poker, and blackjack. The games are free and players receive a certain number of free chips to play those games. Players need to purchase more with real money if they lose their starting virtual stack.

Trouble brewed when a regular Big Fish Casino player filed a lawsuit after spending more than US$1,000 on the site’s virtual currency in a short period of time in 2015. A second lawsuit was brought to court in 2018. This followed Judge Milan D. Smith’s ruling that virtual chips are a thing of value. Judge Smith ruled their purchase constituted illegal online gambling under Washington state law.

Aristocrat Leisure Limited Pays $31 Million Settlement

Aristocrat Leisure Limited has got off lightly all things considered. The US Federal District Court for the Western District of Washington approved a US$155 million settlement. Only US$31 million of that fine lays at the Australian company’s feet. Big Fish’s former owners are stuck with the remaining US$124 million.

The Aussie pokies machine manufacturer paid Kentucky-based Churchill Downs US$1.4 billion for Big Fish Games in 2018. Churchill Downs is, of course, famous for its horse racing track in the United States.

Big Fish agreed to make changes to its games’ mechanics as part of the settlement. There is no longer a need to purchase virtual currency, although this is still possible.

The US$31 million settlement fee appeared on the annual results summary of Aristocrat Leisure Limited. The group released its figures in December 2020, which showed a 46.7% fall in profit. That profit still weighed in at $476.6 million, although 2019 profit after tax was $894.4 million.

CEO Sings His Staff’s Praises

The Annual General Meeting for Aristocrat Leisure Limited was last week. CEO and Managing Director Trevor Croker was full of praise for this staff.

“As we stand here today, we’re more than a year into the pandemic and the large majority of our people around the world continue to work from home, often under arduous restrictions. They’re home schooling children and looking after a family while working as hard as ever as our business continues to grow and transform at pace. It’s never been more clear to me that our people are the heart of our business; our most important responsibility and our biggest asset. So I would add my thanks and respect to our whole team–thank you.”

Croker’s speech will not have resonated with a large section of the people he aimed it at. The company temporarily stood down 800 staff and a further 1,700 took a pay cut of 10-20%. They did this while Croker pulled in $4,457,417 worth of salary and share options; he now holds 367,103 shares in the company, currently valued at $11,545,389. Croker and his three Executive Key Management Personnel banked $10,957,273 between them. The company’s six non-executive directors pulled in a combined $2,276,883.

Neil Chatfield is one of those directors. Chatfield stands as the Chairman. Some 96.6% of Aristocrat Leisure Limited shareholders voted in favour of re-electing Chatfield.

Shareholders are happy with the remuneration of those running the company. They voted 95.08% for and 4.51% against the current payment plan for directors and executives.