Kentucky Ends Online Poker

Will a court in the Commonwealth of Kentucky end online poker in the U.S.? That’s the question folks on both sides of the Pond are asking after Kentucky Circuit Court Judge Thomas Wingate’s Thursday decision. Ruling on a suit filed by the Kentucky Justice and Public Safety Cabinet, Wingate said the state’s seizure of 141 gambling-site URLs was entirely legal.

According to Wingate, the sites must block access to Kentucky residents within 30 days or forfeit ownership of their domain names to the state. This was the original ultimatum offered in the Justice and Public Safety Cabinet’s suit last month. But because of the gambling community’s vociferous outcry Wingate was forced to rule on the legality of the state’s demands.

The ruling is a big-time setback for both the Interactive Gaming Council and the Interactive Media Entertainment and Gaming Association. Both associations appeared at hearings leading up to the decision arguing the suit’s illegality on behalf of the sites owners. Their lawyers claimed that Kentucky didn't have legal jurisdiction over many of the sites and that the state couldn’t technically consider the URLs “gambling paraphernalia” according to its existing laws.

None of these points seem to matter, however, as big-name sites and will now have to pull out of the state. Nor will Wingate hear many arguments at a subsequent forfeiture hearing except that a site functions as an advertising conduit.

"The counsel for represented during the Oct. 7 hearing that the operation of is limited to maintaining a website and providing advertisement for third-party gambling websites," Wingate said. "The court agrees that the maintenance of a website for Internet advertisement alone, without more, is not enough to constitute presence for the purpose of the state court jurisdictional analysis. Thus, the court recognizes that as to any of the Defendants' 141 Domain Names that identifies [sic] websites which are providing information only, the Seizure Order must be appropriately rescinded and will be rescinded in due course."

Yet the sites’ legal representatives weren’t the only ones saying the suit overreached its bounds. The Poker Players’ Alliance was also present at the hearing, claiming that because Kentucky law designates poker as a “game of skill,” Internet-poker sites could not be targeted.

In a press release issued after the ruling, PPA executive director John Pappas said, "Clearly, we believe the judge in this case got it wrong. First of all, we strongly disagree with Judge Wingate's ruling that poker is not a game of skill. As demonstrated in the amicus brief we filed, skill plays an essential role in being a successful poker player. Additionally, we believe that by confirming Gov. Beshear's actions, the court has set a dangerous precedent for censorship of the Internet. Today's ruling is a big step backward for both personal rights and Internet freedom."

To be fair, of course, Wingate did allow the PPA standing at the hearing despite the fact that it wasn’t representing the sites’ owners. And he was also careful not to leave the decision on whether the sites lived up to the state’s demands entirely up to the Justice and Public Safety Cabinet:

According to Wingate, If the sites have "reasonably established to the satisfaction of Kentucky's Justice and Safety Cabinet or this Court that such geographical blocks are operational, (they) shall be relieved from the effects of the seizure order and from any further proceedings in the... forfeiture action."

Hopefully, this signals that Wingate will grant some amount of leniency at the Nov. 17 forfeiture hearing.