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Industry advocates react to Kentucky ruling
In the wake of Franklin County Circuit Court Judge Thomas Wingate's decision against the online gambling sites in a Kentucky case, officials from iMEGA, the Poker Players Alliance and even the Internet Commerce Association have released statements.
Essentially, Judge Wingate has ordered owners of 141 online gambling domain names to appear at a Nov. 17 forfeiture hearing and demonstrate that they are blocking traffic from residents in Kentucky. If the sites don't appear or don't comply with the ruling, the domains will be forfeited to the state.
iMEGA, which was founded to foster cooperation between the online industry and government at all levels, believes that Wingate misapplied several existing Kentucky laws and long-standing principles regarding his court's jurisdiction over the matter.
"This decision must not be allowed to stand, because of the threat it poses to the Internet as a whole," said Joe Brennan Jr., iMEGA chairman.
"Judge Wingate has ignored the clear laws of his own state in coming to a decision that essentially green-lights any jurisdiction - in the U.S. and abroad - to ignore our rights and abuse their power to do away with competition or speech or content [...] they oppose, regardless of the law. This is a dark day for Internet freedom."
iMEGA believes the effect of this ruling will be felt across the entire online world. Other Internet industries could be at risk, such as social networking, video gaming, adult entertainment and others.
"What Judge Wingate has done is to create the 'ultimate weapon' to be used by the powerful and influential to attack content they oppose," Brennan said.
"This will enable government to eliminate competition from differing ideas, beliefs and commerce. This decision today is where it starts, but where will it stop?"
Jeremiah Johnston, ICA president, had similar thoughts on the decision, noting that his organization is extremely disappointed in the decision.
"This is a dangerous decision not just for domain name investors and developers but for all who value commerce and free speech on the Internet," Johnston said.
"The Court has incorrectly held that domain names are a form of property subject to in rem jurisdiction anywhere on the face of the Earth where their associated Web sites may be viewed on a computer screen."
Johnston also pointed out that if this decision was broadly adopted, then Internet commerce and speech would be at risk on a global basis.
"For example, U.S. companies conducting legal business activities in this nation could be subject to seizure orders for their domain names issued by foreign courts for lack of compliance with local law and regulation merely because their websites can be viewed abroad," he said.
"Even more worrisome, the courts of totalitarian regimes could issue seizure orders against domain names used to spread truth and advocate freedom to their repressed populations. The remedy proposed by the court - geographic blocking so that none of the subject websites can be viewed from within Kentucky - is infeasible for individual domain names which could be subject to different laws and regulation in thousands of jurisdictions worldwide."
Both iMEGA and the ICA plan to remain actively engaged in the litigation, and iMEGA is already preparing its challenge to the ruling in both the state and federal courts.
The Poker Players Alliance has also been active in the litigation to help protect poker players' rights. The organization also expressed its disappointment in Judge Wingate's ruling, though it had a few more reasons along with the issue of personal rights and Internet freedoms to add to the list of why the judge shouldn't have ruled the way he did.
"Clearly, we believe the judge in this case got it wrong," said John Pappas, PPA executive director. "First of all, we strongly disagree with Judge Wingate's ruling that poker is not a game of skill. As demonstrated in the amicus brief we filed, skill plays an essential role in being a successful poker player."
PPA filed an amicus brief making the argument that poker is indeed a game of skill and therefore not illegal under Kentucky law. As such, the group believes Governor Steve Beshear's seizure of Web sites offering online poker is unfounded.
Rich Muny, Kentucky state director of the PPA, said the decision in Kentucky was also a huge disappointment to the thousands of Kentuckians who play Internet poker.
"In essence, Governor Beshear and Judge Wingate are denying law-abiding citizens this form of recreation simply because it is enjoyed on the Internet. This is Internet censorship by judicial fiat, plain and simple," Muny said.
PPA's membership in Kentucky also voiced its opposition to the governor's actions by flooding his office with letters and phone calls.
"I am certain that many of the plaintiffs 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," Pappas said.
Pappas said that to truly address Beshear's concerns with online gambling, the state should introduce legislation to license and regulate the online gambling industry, rather than trying to ban it. There is potential for the state to gain millions of dollars in tax revenue if it did that.
"Governor Beshear has shown great leadership in protecting and promoting the rights of Kentuckians to gamble on horse racing and in casinos," Muny said. "He should do the same for those Kentuckians who seek the freedom to engage in online poker."
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