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Poker News | Gambling and the Law

KY Supreme Court Hears Online Poker Case

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On October 22, a case involving the domain names of 141 internet gaming sites went before the highest court in Kentucky. Eyes and ears were focused on the Commonwealth of Kentucky v. IMEGA et al as it came before the Kentucky Supreme Court on an appeal from the Commonwealth, and it was poised to set a precedent not only for online gaming but internet rights in general.

The case began in 2008 when Governor Steve Beshear decided that online gaming sites were illegally infringing upon Kentucky’s own legalized gambling profits, such as those found through thoroughbred racing and the lottery. He ordered the domain names of 141 websites be seized if they refused to block Kentucky residents from accessing their sites, and Judge Thomas Wingate complied with the Commonwealth’s wishes. Almost immediately, a group of organizations (iMEGA, PPA, IGC, ACLU, EFF, and CDT) joined forces to file an appeal, and it was in the Kentucky Court of Appeals that Wingate’s original ruling was overturned. The court ruled by a vote of 2 to 1 that internet domain names were not “gambling devices” and not subject to seizure.

That decision prompted the Commonwealth of Kentucky to appeal to the State Supreme Court, which accepted the case on September 1 and set the hearing for October 22, 2009. The appellees listed were iMEGA, PPA, ACLU, CDT, EFF, Internet Commerce Association, eBay, and Network Solutions, and collectively they were given the opportunity to present their case, which was summed up in the brief filed to the court by stating that an internet domain name cannot be construed as a gambling device, and the forfeiture action undertaken by the Commonwealth lacked any statutory authority, in addition to the fact that the trial court acted in secret and thus violated the Constitution.

On October 22, lawyers for the IGC (Interactive Gaming Council), Sportsbook.com, and iMEGA (Internet Media Entertainment & Gaming Association) took to the floor of the Supreme Court in Frankfort, Kentucky. Noting that the efforts of Gov. Beshear were “intellectually dishonest” and “totally lacking in due process,” the attorneys asked the judges to uphold the decision of the Court of Appeals. The private attorneys for Beshear were grilled by the justices, as their arguments required clarification regarding the decision to seize domain names, an action that could carry repercussions reaching far beyond the borders of Kentucky. Justice Scott noted, at one point, “I’m really, really concerned about the nature of this proceeding.”

The Poker Players Alliance (PPA) released a statement about the proceedings, via Executive Director John Pappas: “On behalf of the PPA and its members, I am very pleased with the arguments presented today supporting the Kentucky Court of Appeals ruling prohibiting the Commonwealth’s seizure of these domain names and I strongly believe we will prevail. This case is about more than playing poker online - it’s about protecting Internet freedom and the individual rights of Kentucky residents… The PPA looks forward to a positive ruling from the Kentucky Supreme Court and hopes to work with lawmakers in the Commonwealth on the common sense solution of licensing and regulation.”

The Kentucky Supreme Court could take weeks or months to render a decision, and iMEGA does not expect it until 2010.

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