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Poker News | Gambling and the Law

KY Court of Appeals Rules in Favor of PPA & iMEGA

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Poker players have had their eyes on the Kentucky Court of Appeals since arguments were presented in the internet gaming domain seizure case on December 12, 2008 and a ruling was finally handed down on January 20. Coincidentally, on the same day that poker-playing Barack Obama took the oath of office to become the 44th president of the United States, Kentucky ruled in favor of the Poker Players Alliance in their objection to the domain seizures.

The case began in October when the Commonwealth of Kentucky, on an order from Governor Steve Beshear, was granted the authority to seize 141 internet gaming domain names on the basis that they illegally allowed Kentucky residents to participate in online gaming. Judge Thomas Wingate rendered that decision, but it was soon brought to the Kentucky Court of Appeals by the Poker Players Alliance (PPA), Internet Media Entertainment & Gaming Association (iMEGA), and Interactive Gaming Council (IGC) in mid-December. Along with the arguments presented, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), and Center for Democracy and Technology (CDT) filed a joint amicus brief in protest of the violation of free speech rights by the Wingate decision.

Nearly a month later, the Kentucky Court of Appeals issued its ruling in the case and prohibited the Franklin Circuit Court, where Wingate heard the initial case, from enforcing the order to seize the 141 internet domain names. The appeals court ruled that, contrary to initial arguments from the Commonwealth of Kentucky, said internet domain names are not “gambling devices” under Kentucky law and not subject to seizure on that basis.

The Kentucky Court of Appeals decision was a 2-to-1 majority opinion
, and in Judge Jeff S. Taylor’s writing of the opinion, he noted that the Commonwealth could not seek a civil forfeiture based on a criminal statute when there had been no criminal proceeding. Without trial and/or conviction of any of the internet domain name ownership companies, the Commonwealth would not be allowed to seize their property.

The dissenting opinion, written by Judge Michael Caperton, noted that the internet domain names were part of a larger gambling machine and should be classified as “gambling devices.” However, the other two judges disagreed and ruled as the majority.

Executive Director of the PPA John Pappas issued a statement upon notification of the January 20 ruling: “This is a tremendous victory for internet freedom and the rights of Kentucky residents who enjoy playing online poker. We are pleased that the appeals court has forcefully reversed Judge Wingate’s earlier ruling and confirmed many of the arguments that have been raised in opposition to the seizure effort. The Court of Appeals has agreed with the PPA’s position that Judge Wingate did not have jurisdiction to issue the order that he entered against these domains and that Secretary Brown has no legitimate right to deprive the citizens of Kentucky of the legal right to play poker online.”

iMEGA Chairman Joe Brennan Jr. noted, “We are very happy with the court’s ruling today. The judges clearly agreed with our interpretation of the law, and thankfully, this reverses what would have been a terrible precedent for our country and the internet.”

The decision by the Kentucky Court of Appeals was a clear reprimand of the lower court’s action and could very well be the end of the case, thereby allowing internet gaming websites to operate as they see fit and in accordance with appropriate laws. However, if the Commonwealth of Kentucky opts to continue their fight, it can appeal to the State Supreme Court.

To join the PPA and find out where your efforts are needed most, visit www.PokerPlayersAlliance.org, the website of the non-profit membership organization that currently represents more than one million people with an interest in poker in an effort to protect their rights.

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