This past Tuesday the Kentucky Court of Appeals ruled in favor of poker in a case that threatened to upturn the entire industry. Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear, and his staff, were attempting to seize 141 gambling domain names, effectively restricting access to them from any area of the world. His case, originally approved by Franklin County Circuit Court’s Judge Wingate, was overturned on the grounds that Kentucky lacked jurisdiction on the issue. It appears that the Governor has not given up, however, submitting an appeal to the highest level of Kentucky legal standing, the State Supreme Court.
The result of the original case nearly achieved its aims before an appeal could even be heard. Judge Wingate scheduled a forfeiture hearing before any appeal date could be arranged, and some companies even went so far as to hand over domain names that they controlled. However, swift action by the case’s defendants, the Interactive Media Entertainment & Gaming Association and the Interactive Gaming Council, blocked the move.
The crux of Kentucky’s case rested on the claim that a domain name could be considered a “gambling device.” If this was considered factual, then the state would have the legal rights to take control of the web addresses in accordance with its laws. The appeals court, however, did not agree with the conclusions reached by Judge Wingate, and decreed that a domain name could not be considered a “gambling device” and that, therefore, Kentucky laws had no jurisdiction over their operations within the state.
Intriguingly, Governor Beshear seems to have left a few key targets off his 141 long list. Most notably, the Kentucky based TwinSpires.com has received a clean bill of health, despite taking bets on horse races. The taxable horse racing industry is an important sector of the Kentuckian economy, and has come in for hard times over recent months. Many have supposed that Beshear’s attempts to restrict the activities of rival gambling operators was fueled, not by a moral impetus, but by financial concerns.
Following the news of this latest appeal, reaction from representatives of the poker industry and civil rights groups has been extremely confident. The Executive Director of the Poker Players Alliance, John Pappas, made an aggressive statement in which he said, “Kentucky residents should be outraged that the Commonwealth is investing another minute of time and another dollar of scarce resources in this quixotic case. The appeals court’s sound rejection of the Commonwealth’s case should have ended this legal debacle in its tracks.”
The PPA submitted an amicus brief, in opposition to the state, during the appeal, as did many other concerned parties – including the American Civil Liberties Union. They were concerned, less with the misapplication of Kentucky state law, and more with the breach of constitutional rights. In a statement released following the news of the new appeal, they said, “we look forward to the prospect of providing the Kentucky Supreme Court with our analysis of why Kentucky’s attempted seizure of the 141 domain names violates the Constitution.”
This new stage of the case is in its early days and the Kentucky Supreme Court has yet to set dates for the submission of briefs, or decide whether or not oral arguments will need to be heard. If the ruling of this court is disputed then the case could well be referred out of state borders to the U.S. Supreme Court.