It was inauguration day in Washington, D.C., the capital of the United States. Millions of people descended on the East Coast city in celebration of the newly-elected President. In the Commonwealth of Kentucky, the online gaming world rejoiced as well, as the seizure and potential forfeiture of 141 internet gambling domain names was blocked by a three judge Court of Appeals panel.
The decision came down two to one in favor of the internet gambling industry, which successfully petitioned to have the Court of Appeals hear the case after a Circuit Court ruling upheld the Commonwealth’s actions. In the process, the Merge Gaming Network, Ultimate Bet, Absolute Poker, and the Cake Poker Network all fled the state in order to preserve their URLs worldwide. The three judge court of Appeals panel, which featured Michelle Keller, Jeff Taylor, and Michael Caperton, was expected to hand down a decision by the end of the month after oral arguments were heard in December in a court room in Louisville. A ruling officially occurred on Tuesday afternoon.
In a statement posted on the website of the Interactive Media Entertainment and Gaming Association (iMEGA), Chairman Joe Brennan commented, “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.” iMEGA, along with the Interactive Gaming Council (IGC), served as representatives of the internet gambling industry. In addition, organizations such as the Poker Players Alliance (PPA) and American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) submitted amicus briefs. The PPA stressed poker as a game of skill (therefore not a crime under Kentucky law) and the ACLU warned of infringements of the First Amendment.
In their rulings, the three judge Court of Appeals panel focused on whether the Commonwealth had jurisdiction to act in the case. The websites in question were seized as “gambling devices” and identified as illegal under Kentucky state law. Judge Keller answered definitively whether domain names constituted “gambling devices” by saying, “It stretches credulity to conclude that a series of numbers, or Internet address, can be said to constitute a ‘machine or any mechanical or other device…designed and manufactured primarily for use in connection with gambling.’” Lawyers in the case questioned advertising of Horseshoe Casino, which is located across the Ohio River from Kentucky in Southern Indiana, asking State officials whether billboards advertising the casino and buses that transported customers to it were considered “gambling devices.” The State’s response: Yes, they were.
Judge Taylor focused on the civil proceeding of a criminal act, illegal gambling. In essence, the Commonwealth had tried to use a civil proceeding to prosecute a criminal offense. Judge Caperton passed down the lone dissenting opinion, claiming that domain names were part of an internet gambling device. Nevertheless, the split decision favored the internet gambling industry.
No word of an appeal by the Commonwealth has been handed down as of press time. Jon L. Fleischaker, attorney for iMEGA, commented, “This decision confirms why we went the way we did with suit. We knew when we brought this to the Court of Appeals, that we would get justice for iMEGA and the domain names in Kentucky.”
Poker News Daily will have additional updates as they emerge as well as full reaction from the industry on this groundbreaking case.