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Poker News | Gambling and the Law

Appeal Process Begins in Kentucky Online Gaming Case

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It was only a matter of time. Out of the 141 online gaming domains affected by the recent Kentucky ruling and all of the subsequent companies and organizations that had a stake in the case, the appeal process was likely in the works before the ruling was even announced. Kentucky has a fight on its hands if it wishes to uphold its recent court decision.

The case began with a shocking announcement by Governor Steve Beshear of Kentucky on September 18th, 2008, when he made clear his intention to seize the control of 141 online gaming domain names because the sites not only infringed upon the state’s ability to maximize revenue from its legalized horse racing, bingo, and lottery endeavors, but Beshear claimed that online gaming is illegal. As the Commonwealth of Kentucky went to court to seek official approval of its plan, the online gaming community geared up for a fight.

After a court hearing on October 7th, Judge Thomas Wingate came back with his decision on October 16th. Not only did the judge dismiss all arguments by the attorneys representing various domain sites at risk, but he threw out the notion that poker is a game of skill. The final decision allowed the Commonwealth of Kentucky to pursue their intention of seizing any and all of the 141 domain names involved, which included names like Full Tilt Poker and PokerStars, if they did not institute the process of geoblocking within thirty days to prohibit Kentucky residents from playing on their sites.

The ruling, while it may not have surprised many, did elicit strong reactions from the poker community. The Interactive Media Entertainment & Gaming Association (iMEGA) was one of the first to speak out about the wide-ranging affects of the court’s decision. Joe Brennan Jr., chairman and CEO of iMEGA, noted, “What Judge Wingate has done is to create the ‘ultimate weapon’ to be used by the powerful and influential to attack content they oppose. This will enable government to eliminate competition from differing ideas, beliefs, and commerce. This decision today is where is starts, but where will it stop?”

Brennan added, “Every sector of the online economy should be greatly concerned about how easily our nation’s laws can be set aside as a matter of political and economic convenience. Today, it’s internet gambling, but what will it be next? How else will government try to control what you can access on the internet in the privacy and freedom of your own home?”

iMEGA went further than releasing a statement about its outrage at the Kentucky decision. It filed a petition with the Kentucky Court of Appeals for a writ of mandamus, which would block the original court’s decision and stop the Commonwealth’s efforts to seize the 141 domain names in question. The basis for the writ, iMEGA claimed, was the lower court’s lack of jurisdiction over the domain names in the first place because none of them are owned by Kentucky residents or managed in the Commonwealth.

The petition from iMEGA also cited the misapplication of Kentucky’s “gambling devices” statute in that it should not include domain names and the statute includes no basis for the seizure, which is a civil matter. iMEGA also claimed that Public Safety Secretary J. Michael Brown had no authority to bring the action to the court in the first place.

Brennan said of the petition, “Since the lower court elected to ignore Kentucky law, and instead reached back to a law the current one supplanted to find a rationale justifying these seizures, we have no choice but to go to the Court of Appeals.”

While some online gaming sites have already begun to comply with the order of the lower court to begin the geoblocking process - Doyle’s Room blocked thirteen states, including Kentucky and Mr. Brunson’s own home state of Nevada - others are settled in for the fight and will be looking for their own ways to intercede and ask for an appeal in the case. For now, iMEGA has taken the lead in the matter.

All eyes will be on the Kentucky court system in the coming weeks and months to see if there is any vindication for the online poker community. The alternative to a favorable appeals court decision could be far-reaching and harmful, to say the least, to the poker economy, not to mention the personal rights of citizens of the United States.

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