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Criticims Abound in Kentucky Ruling

by Hillary LaClair, Senior Editor

            The legal system, as well as the internet gaming community, has delivered a resounding negative response to Judge Thomas Wingate’s decision in Kentucky’s attempt to seize online casino gambling domains. The ruling has received a slew of criticisms, according to an array of media reports.

            The original attempt to legally confiscate over 141 internet domains was launched in August of this year, with several commissioned state lawyers. After an accompanying hearing, Judge Wingate ruled in favor of Kentucky, allowing the state to seize a handful of domains without the informing the owners. In September, the litigation continued, in which state lawyers argued that computers located in Kentucky were, “through the use of domain names,” enabling citizens to access internet gambling sites offering slots, roulette and poker. “Cybercrimes” experts testified that the domains were gambling devices, again without informing the owners. The order was given to seize some 141 domain names in connection without criminal gambling activity.

            A counter argument was then presented, in which the final ruling was made to force internet casino domain owners to block Kentucky users within 30 days to avoid having their domains seized and fined. Some outsourced lawyers felt that not enough had been done in the case, in that it did not issue fines or punitive damages to the defendants.

            Speculation is circulating that the complaints follow lawyers who are stand to pay for the damages awarded to the state. “I’ve got a feeling it sent a cold shiver down the spine of plaintiff’s lawyers who have a contingency contract for getting money in the matter,” says Bill Johnson, a Frankfort attorney representing seven of the domain owners.

            Kentucky governor’s office spokesperson Jay Blanton disagrees, however, having said, “…it’s too early to speculate on legal fees.”

            The most criticism comes from internet casino gambling advocates – some who feel that it may come down to the defending argument being presented before the Supreme Court. iMEGA, one of the leading organizations in the defending arguments to have the case dismissed was more than just disappointed.

            Joe Brennan Jr., chairman of iMEGA released a statement saying, “The decision must not be allowed to stand, because of the threat it poses to the internet as a whole.

            “Judge Wingate has ignored the clear laws of his own state in coming to a decision that essentially green-lights any jurisdiction – in the US and abroad – to ignore our rights and abuse their power to do awat with competition or speech or content with which they oppose, regardless of the law. This is a dark day for internet freedom.

            “What Judge Wingate has done is to create the ‘ultimate weapon’ to be used by the powerful and influential to attack content they oppose. This will enable to government to eliminate competition from differing ideas, beliefs and commerce. This decision today is where it starts, but where will it start?”

            Ruch Muny, Kentucky state director for the Poker Players Alliance added his two cents to the argument, maintaining the organizations stance that poker should be omitted from the dispute altogether as it is a game of skill rather than one of chance. “In essence, Governor Beshear and Judge Wingate are denying law-abiding citizens this form of [online gambling] recreation simply because it is enjoyed on the internet. This is internet censorship by judicial fiat, plain and simple,” said Muny.

            To which his colleague, PPA executive director John Pappas added, “I am certain that many of the defendants in this case intend to quickly appeal this matter. We are confident that the Kentucky Appellate Court will review the facts and overturn today’s order. At the same time, the PPA will continue its efforts to protect the rights of Kentucky citizens to play poker online.”

            The discussion has extended further than those involved in the legal dispute. The public has had much to say about the ruling. Some feel as though the litigation was in response to the declining value of land casinos, which the Kentucky Governor has lobbied for a great deal this past year. Others feel that the greatest fault in Judge Wingate’s decision was the failure to address how Kentucky’s jurisdiction can reach to internet domains located outside of the state and even the country.

            A blogger on voiced his opinion: “I can’t see where a state court could have jurisdiction over domain names and sites not residing in its state. It is nearly impossible for them to block everyone in the state. It is more reasonable for the state’s ISP’s to block access. But even this goes in the face of the sanctity of the Internet. If it is illegal then the user should be held responsible. When a user logs on he/she should have to check a box indicating that they are not from Kentucky. This would put the responsibility where it belongs. This is a very scary precedence. This judge sounds like he is simply on a power trip.”

            Web Host Industry posts, “This case should be thrown out of court for the role reason of being unconstitutional. What’s next? Are states in the Bible belt going to seize control and subsequently block adult websites, because they don’t want their residents viewing porn? If Judge Wingate allows Kentucky to take control of these domain names, we’re going to be no better than China is and how they already censor the Internet.”

            The defendants who feel that the ruling was unjust will be given the opportunity to file an appeal, and Wingate has informed some that if these domains are able to accurately illustrate that their purpose is solely advertising, that they will have more clout than others. Whether or not the dispute will be taken to the Supreme Court has not yet been specified, although the speculation has been made.