In late March, the Commonwealth of Kentucky filed suit against Pocket Kings, the purported operators of Full Tilt Poker, seeking the amount of money lost by state residents between March 2005 and September 2009. Now, the complaint has been amended to include Party Gaming, which recently announced a merger with bwin.
Reacting to the news that Party Gaming, whose online poker site PartyPoker hasn’t accepted real money wagers from U.S. residents since 2006, was singled out was Interactive Media Entertainment and Gaming Association (iMEGA) Chairman Joe Brennan. iMEGA has been at the forefront of the fight to protect 141 internet gambling domain names that were seized two years ago in a separate legal battle and may ultimately face forfeiture. The case is pending in the Kentucky Supreme Court.
Brennan told Poker News Daily on Thursday, “This is a last minute ploy by the Commonwealth to try to force a settlement. I think they named Party because the company is engaged in a merger and they’re trying to use that to get money out of them. They’re probably trying to get Party to pay out some cash settlement. Party has been around for a while and nothing has changed other than they’re trying to undergo a merger.” Gambling911 reported that Kentucky attorneys are seeking funds lost by state residents between August 2005 and October 2006.
PartyPoker, whose parent company is publicly traded on the London Stock Exchange, vacated the U.S. market in 2006 after the passage of the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA). Attorney Jeff Ifrah speculated, “It’s unclear how long the Commonwealth has been researching the viability of claims against anyone. They may have been looking at Party for a while now, even before the merger announcement. They were certainly looking at them last year when they started thinking about putting a complaint together.”
Party Gaming has already signed a non-prosecution agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice and one of its co-founders, Anurag Dikshit, faces sentencing later this year after admitting Wire Act violations. Doubting the success of Kentucky’s case against Party Gaming was Ifrah, who told Poker News Daily, “In their complaint against Party, they continue to omit any reference to any specific loser. They’ve made broad references to losers and broad references to Kentucky residents, but there’s still no proof. They’re hoping a judge will grant them discovery.”
PartyPoker was once the largest online poker site in the world and, when it departed the U.S. market in 2006, was in the midst of its Monster promotion. According to PokerScout.com, PartyPoker boasts a seven-day running average of 3,350 real money ring game players and is the third largest site worldwide behind PokerStars and Full Tilt. PartyPoker ranks just ahead of Playtech’s iPoker Network and features World Poker Tour host Mike Sexton, “High Stakes Poker” hostess Kara Scott, and bad boy Tony G as its sponsored pros.
Brennan summed up the news by calling out Kentucky’s attorneys, who are allegedly working on a contingency basis: “It is the plaintiff’s attorneys who have now used the name of the Commonwealth of Kentucky to try to blackmail Party Gaming and use the occasion of their merger as an opportunity to get some sort of settlement out of them. It’s about as contemptible and reprehensible as anything I can imagine.”
Curiously, PartyPoker was not named in the original lawsuit seeking the forfeiture of 141 domain names, including those belonging to PokerStars, Absolute Poker, UB.com, and Full Tilt.
Party Gaming likely won’t reenter the U.S. market until a full licensing and regulatory framework is in place. A bill proposed by Congressman Barney Frank (D-MA) would do just that and passed out of the House Financial Services Committee two weeks ago. However, with the current Congressional session quickly coming to an end, its future appears to be in doubt. The bill, numbered HR 2267, boasts 70 co-sponsors.