The estate of Tolkien claim they learned of the games in a spam email received by their lawyer, and that they would never “exploit” the Tolkien name to create gambling games in either an Internet or brick-and-mortar setting. When the plaintiffs found out about the online slots in 2010, they entered into talks with Warner Brothers to reach a settlement, and the talks were not successful. This led to the lawsuit.
The 1969 rights agreement between the author and Warner Brothers allows Warner Brothers to make merchandise of a tangible nature. The original agreement was signed by J.R.R. Tolkien to earn money he needed to pay taxes.
The estate claims the agreement only included items like films, t-shirts, posters, toys/figurines, videos, and other physical items. Wording in the papers filed with the United States District Court Central District of California states “They did not include any grant of exploitations such as electronic or digital rights, rights in media yet to be devised or other intangibles such as rights in services.” The original rights agreement states “with the manufacture, sale, and distribution of any and all articles of a tangible personal property, other than novels, paperbacks,and other printed published matter...”
Right now, the courts have to decide if Warner Brothers has the right to create online video games and slot machines. The Tolkien estate and publishers of the books claim that Tolkien fans are “outraged” by the “irreparable harm to Tolkien's legacy...” Meanwhile, the LOTR slots are developing a huge fan base and bringing in plenty of income to casinos and Warner Brothers.
If the Tolkien estate wins, they're asking for at least $80 million. They also want an injunction that could eliminate the Lord of the Rings slot games from appearing in online casinos and from computer games and apps from being developed.