The gambling industry turned their collective eyes on Kentucky yesterday, as the Supreme Court heard oral arguments relating to the state’s attempt to seize 141 gambling domain names. Opposing lawyers argued back and forth for 90 minutes in front of a panel of inquisitive judges. If the court reversed the decision made by the Kentucky appeals court then it could see a whole host of domain names abducted and removed from circulation.
While the likes of PokerStars and Doyle’s Room must wait nervously for 2 to 4 months, Full Tilt struck a preemptive strike at Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear’s machinations. The www.FullTiltPoker.com domain name is registered with British firm Safenames. As such, if the state of Kentucky were successful, Safenames would be requested to hand over the address. Full Tilt was confident that any decision in Kentucky would be ignored by Safenames, but after failing to receive absolute assurance they decided to turn to the courts.
Judge Michael Furness presided over the High Court hearing, where Pocket Kings, Ltd (Full Tilt) claimed that the Kentucky ruling held no weight in the UK. Although they were informed of the hearing, representatives from the state declined to appear. Given their no-show, Judge Furness could have immediately ruled against them. However Romie Tager, the lawyer for Pocket Kings, stepped in to advise the judge on some of the arguments Kentucky may have made. Nevertheless, the judge sided with Full Tilt and ruled that, “Kentucky’s proceedings are not enforceable in English law.”
The initial case was brought by Kentucky in the Franklin Circuit Court and ruled that the Governor and his team did have the right to seize control of the 141 domain names. However, many of the firms successfully appealed on the grounds that web addresses do not constitute “gambling devices” and so couldn’t be seized under Kentucky law. Interestingly, the U.K. court documents make it clear that Full Tilt did not take part in that appeal and so were technically still bound by the initial Franklin Circuit Court decision. However, they also noted that no attempt to remove the domain from Safenames had been made.
There was some question as to whether Full Tilt was right to seek this ruling in advance of the decision by the Kentucky Supreme Court. However, given the potentially ruinous consequences of losing the the FullTiltPoker.com address, the judge agreed that the timing was right. “This seems to me to be a case where the pre-emptive approach was justified. The continued use of the domain name is clearly important to the claimant’s business and it is at present in state of uncertainty as to whether the Kentucky proceedings will be enforced.”
Full Tilt can now proceed safe in the knowledge that they are protected from any ruling in Kentucky. Many of their competitors have their domains listed with American registrars like GoDaddy – who have already shown a willingness to comply with any rulings. These firms must now wait anxiously while the panel of judges deliberate their decision.