Know when to hold ‘em

 In news

Like a Blue Super Moon, rare events in intellectual property do occasionally happen. One just has. A ‘run-of-the-mill’ IP rights spat between two gaming platforms might just have unearthed the biggest illegal gambling racket since The Sting. What a tale to tell. So, I’ll try.

Know when to fold ‘em  

Back in 2021 mobile gaming platform Skillz Inc. sued California-based AviaGames for patent infringement. Simple enough you’d think. Skillz claimed Avia’s App called Pocket7Games was a copy of its own gaming platform. This is where there ensues the usual ‘compare and contrast’ study in court of the two competing Apps. Only the case took a criminal twist.

Skillz told the court that during the discovery process of the infringement case, it uncovered wrongdoing by Avia. Specifically, that Avia was using AI bots to defeat human challengers. It was advertised as and was supposed to pit human against human. If one human defeats another using skill, it isn’t gambling. If a platform uses AI to defeat a human and stack the odds in its favour – that’s gambling. Moreover, that’s an illegal gambling enterprise unless licensed, ‘fair’ and controlled.

Know when to walk away

It got worse for Avia and its financial backers. Rather than walk away, the disgruntled App players filed a class action lawsuit claiming $1B in compensation. Avia’s bosses Vickie Chen and Peng Zhang thought it wise, at this point, to retain defence attorneys. Their defence being, in terms, Skillz did this illegal gambling first. A grand jury awaits, organised by New Jersey federal prosecutors. The IP infringement case is now a secondary dispute rescheduled for February next year.

Know when to run

A criminal probe is now underway into rigged games on the Avia platform. AI is not just a Yorkshire expression, it’s a game changer. Quite literally in this case. When a human being thinks he’s playing a human, he feels he has a chance. Introduce a bot as the opponent and the mindset changes as quickly as the odds against the sentient bi-ped. It’s not what they signed up for and it’s not cricket. With the Avia platform, it’s mostly blackjack, solitaire, bingo, and pool where your skill, allegedly, can no longer help you. You are doomed to defeat. Where there’s no skill, there’s just a bare gamble.

The class action says:

“The entire premise of Avia’s platform is false: instead of competing against real people, Avia’s computers populate and/or control the games with computer ‘bots’ that can impact or control the outcome of the games,”

“Instead of being games of skill as advertised, Avia’s games are manipulated games of chance that amount to an unapproved gambling enterprise. This action seeks to hold the defendants responsible for their deceptive practices and, separately, their racketeering gambling enterprise.”

The potential criminal element of this action is such that Skillz have been allowed access to Avia’s communications with its own attorneys. Arguably, the rarest of legal permissions being the “crime-fraud” exception to client attorney privilege. There isn’t a moon scarce enough to describe this occurrence!

You gotta learn to play it right

If there was a body of folk you don’t want to cross, it’s quite probably on-line gamers. They inhabit their world, knowing every inch of it, every crease, wrinkle, and crevice. They are creatures of instinct with tech communication skills that are second to none. They knew something was up.  They could feel it. They exposed it, very effectively, as only they know how – through online and social media review.

They accused the platform of not being “legit” saying:

“It’s sneaky and despicable how they have rigged it.”

Claiming it became clear when they realised how much lower their scores were when money was involved. They smelt a rat. One said:

“’I deleted this game a long time ago due to noticing they were using bots as opponents (so obvious with their names) and losing all the time after I got up too high for their liking…”

Another reviewer claimed they knew it was a “scam” when they were owed $30 but only allowed to withdraw $2.

We know what the gamers found out, that a game is not fair and skilled based when it’s rigged by bots pretending to be human players.

Peel off a layer of IP and look what you might find lurking beneath in the form of secreted AI tech. That’s not just interesting, it’s a public service.

The criminal case will rumble on to its own conclusions and the alleged shameless copying of the App will become a sideshow by comparison. We will see if Avia are “out of aces” on either or both counts.

When the dealin’s done

In 1997, Garry Kasparov famously lost a match to IBM’S Deep Blue, a supercomputer. In so doing he became the “first person to lose their job to AI” He was no longer the best chess player in the world. Fact.

But and it’s a big but. He knew what he was playing. He knew the odds were stacked.

Murray Fairclough
Development Underwriter
OPUS Underwriting Limited  
+44 (0) 780 145 9940


Recent Posts