Kentucky Officials Still Want to Make Money Out of Domain Debacle (Update)
October 29, 2008 (InfoPowa News) — Further disclosures in the attempt by the state of Kentucky to seize international domain names became public this week following moves by the Interactive Gaming Council and the Interactive Media Entertainment and Gaming Association to challenge county court Judge Thomas Wingate's findings (see previous reports).
IGC legal representative Jeff Ifrah presented credentials that are hard to ignore, claiming that he represents the owners — all IGC members — of 61 out of the 141 domain names temporarily 'seized' by the Franklin Circuit Court judge in covert proceedings last month.
The Judge's findings, which overwhelmingly supported the actions of lawyers working for the state of Kentucky and Governor Steve Beshear, are the subject of a Motion of Stay by the IGC and a Writ of Mandamus to the Kentucky Court of Appeals by iMEGA. The next hearing on the issue by Judge Wingate is scheduled for December 3rd, which he has set as a deadline for domain owners to avoid confiscation by blocking their websites to Kentucky residents.
However, Card Player Magazine this week claims that up to a billion dollars in collective 'retributions' could still be a primary motivation for state officials. When the issue first surfaced in the public media, private lawyers acting for the state were upfront but not specific in listing 'compensation' as one of their objectives in addition to ensuring that Kentuckians were denied access to online gambling websites not approved by the state.
Although the judge has not yet imposed any pecuniary measures, the magazine quotes Jeff Ifrah, the lead attorney for the Interactive Gaming Council, as saying that Kentucky and its private attorneys will do everything they can to make the sites pay up, despite the [current absence of pecuniary findings] in the judge's ruling.
Ifrah said that if Kentucky actually gains control of the sites' domain names, its lawyers will use what Ifrah characterised as "extortion" to hold the sites hostage until they pay up. The owners of those companies wishing to claim exemption from domain confiscation by blocking Kentuckians will apparently also be required to physically meet with state officials and lawyers, handing over documentation identifying the owners, directors, and officers of the sites concerned. However, Ifrah says the sites will not allow that to happen.
The IGC's Motion of Stay has already resulted in Judge Wingate postponing his confiscation deadline to December 3rd, and is now awaiting the attention of the three-judge Court of Appeals which next sits on November 18th. The petition asks the Court of Appeals to step in before irreparable harm can be done.
In a seperate interview with Poker News Daily this week, Ifrah said: "The only court that is going to do anything is the Court of Appeals. Judge Wingate had already decided that he was going to sign off on [Kentucky Governor] Beshear's actions. The Appellate level will be the first time that anyone is starting with a blank page. We filed on Tuesday and the Commonwealth will now come back with its response. The Court of Appeals can then decide the arguments."
Ifrah added that in addition to the owners of the 61 domain names he represents, his legal firm has also tried to motivate other legal representatives in order to speak with a unified voice. He expressed surprise that the owners of some of the domain names under threat had not defended their assets by legal representation, speculating: "Either they think this will blow over or that we're doing such a good job that they don't need to pay for lawyers. For a significant period of time after this case began, no one really knew about it. I can't imagine that someone doesn’t know this is going on, but it’s possible."
Card Player Magazine reiterated the question on everyone's lips — if Judge Wingate's Kentucky county court is permitted to get away with a ruling carrying such massively negative international implications, how will it be practically implemented on companies and registrars, many of whom are not in the United States, let alone Kentucky. There are more than 500 registrars globally, and international cooperation would be essential in order for Kentucky to take possession of the gambling sites' domain names.
This week Whittier College law professor and Internet gambling legal expert I. Nelson Rose joined other legal gurus in condemning the Wingate rulings. In an interview, Rose was brutally frank, saying that he thought the judge's findings "silly." He went on to comment: "I think that local courts and government officials haven’t accepted the reality of the Internet. They're having trouble coping with it. The idea that a county judge could seize the worldwide domain names of international companies seems silly.
"I also thought that the Judge was probably wrong on the idea that a county judge can grab domain names simply because he considers them contraband. He was wrong on the question of whether there was a violation of Kentucky state anti-gambling law.
"Having read the [Wingate] decision, I think it's worse than that. Judge Wingate declares web names to be the same as slot machines. The theory is that it helps with gambling and is therefore a "gambling device." Under that theory, a car is a gambling device because it transports you to play. A house is a gambling device. Money is a gambling device. Everyone knows what a gambling device is."