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Jeff Karp will lead Big Fish Games as managing director and president. (Big Fish Photo)

Former Electronic Arts and Zynga executive Jeff Karp is joining Big Fish Games as managing director and president, responsible for leading the Seattle-based casual games company under its second corporate parent in four years.

Big Fish Games founder and former CEO Paul Thelen, who oversaw the sale of the company to Kentucky Derby operator Churchill Downs Inc. for $885 million in 2014, left following Big Fish’s $990 million acquisition by Australia’s Aristocrat Technologies, which was completed in January. Jeff Goldstein, Aristocrat’s chief digital officer and chief strategy officer, was overseeing Big Fish before Karp was brought on board.

Aristocrat is announcing Karp’s appointment as the new Big Fish leader this morning. He will be based in Seattle in his new role.

Karp has more than 15 years of experience in the video games industry. He spent more than 10 years at game giant EA in a variety of positions, most notably as the executive vice president of EA’s Play Label. There, he oversaw recognizable franchises like The Sims and EA Sports.

Big Fish founder and former CEO Paul Thelen left after the latest sale of the company. (Big Fish Photo)

“I am honored to be working with such a creative and talented group, who are focused on enhancing life through exceptional play,” Karp said in a news release announcing his appointment. “Big Fish is a content-rich company and its employees are passionate about making great games that bring joy and fun to millions of players around the world.”

At Zynga, where he was executive vice president and chief marketing and revenue officer, Karp worked on games like Words With Friends and Draw Something. Karp also had a stint at GSN Games as the executive vice president of social and mobile games.

Most recently, Karp was the CEO of Sports Illustrated Play, which was acquired by Comcast/NBC this year. The digital youth sports platform had 17 million monthly users. Karp left the job in January.

In his new role, the company says Karp will oversee the company’s continued growth and manage its portfolio of games, including Big Fish Casino, Cooking Craze, and Gummy Drop.

“Jeff’s expertise in growing games into global entertainment franchises is unsurpassed,” said Aristocrat’s Goldstein in a news release. “His proven track record and deep experience in the games industry make him the ideal person to drive Big Fish’s growth strategy, and ensure the business delivers its full potential.”

The market for casino-based online video games was dealt a blow in March, when a federal appeals court ruled that the Big Fish Casino constituted illegal online gambling. The ruling, currently under appeal, also has repercussions for other casino games that use a similar virtual currency system.

Thelen, a former RealNetworks executive, founded Big Fish Games in Seattle in 2002. Big Fish Games in 2017 posted $466 million in net revenue and $80.3 million in adjusted earnings before interest, depreciation, taxes and amortization, according to financial statements from publicly held Churchill Downs. That was down from $486.2 million in revenue and $82.2 million in EBIDTA in 2016.

Big Fish has a regional office in Oakland, Calif., in addition to its Seattle HQ, which is shifting to a new location in the city. A spokesperson says the company currently has 735 employees overall, with 630 of them in Seattle.

Note: Employee numbers have been corrected since publication.

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