In a surprise political move termed separately as a "stunt" and a "blatant protectionist move" by interested observers, Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear on Thursday pushed through a court order to seize domain names connected to various online gaming sites allegedly accepting business from Kentucky residents.
The order, signed by a Franklin County (KY) Circuit Court judge, names 141 different Internet domains covering several different forms of online gaming, including sports betting, bingo, casino-style games and poker. Many major US-facing sites were listed in the complaint, including but not limited to the following: PokerStars.com, FullTiltPoker.com, Doylesroom.com, Bodoglife.com, sportsbook.com, UltimateBet.com, AbsolutePoker.com, Microgaming.com (which is a software provider and does not provide any sort of gaming directly under the "Microgaming" name), and Pokertime.com.
A story published by the Kentucky Post at kypost.com erroneously reported that all 141 domain names had been transferred to "an account of the Plaintiff, Commonwealth of Kentucky" as dictated by the court order, but only two minor, non-poker domains – luckypyramidcasino.com and highrollerslounge.com – are known to have had their domains seized under the order, which was sent electronically to Internet registrars after its issuance. Both of those domains are believed to have been serviced by US-based registrar service ENOM, allowing the seizures to occur. None of the poker sites above, however, are believed to use US-based domain services, and all of those sites remained accessible with no interruption in service.
Governor Beshear, in comments made to state news outlets, readily admitted to the protectionist nature of his actions. "The owners and operators of these illegal sites prey on Kentucky citizens, including our youth," Beshear was quoted as saying, "and deprive the Commonwealth of millions of dollars in revenue." One of Beshear's election platforms, coincidentally, was an expansion of gambling for Kentucky residents.
An AP wire story offered comments in a similar vein: "Unlike casinos that operate on land or on riverboats in the United States, these operations pay no tax revenues, provide no jobs and yield no tourism benefits," Beshear said on Monday. "They are leeches on our communities." Beshear also described horseracing interests such as Louisville's Churchill Downs as Kentucky's "signature industry."
Kentucky Secretary J. Michael Brown chimed in with a similar statement. Said Brown, "Gov. Beshear has once again demonstrated that he is willing to take bold and innovative steps to protect Kentuckians and Kentucky's legitimate businesses."
The Kentucky court order drew nearly universal condemnation from the poker world, including a swift rebuke from the Poker Players Alliance. In a statement on the PPA site, executive director John Pappas was quoted as follows:
"The Poker Players Alliance is outraged at the actions taken by Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear and the Franklin County Circuit Court to seize the domain names of Internet gambling websites. We believe this action not only unduly restricts the freedom of Kentucky residents to play games of skill, such as poker, online, but sets a precedent for censorship of the Internet by force."
Continued Pappas, "Many of Governor Beshear's arguments – that online poker is illegal, unregulated, and without a mechanism to capture tax revenue – are false. Online poker is not illegal under Kentucky law, is regulated in its home jurisdiction and the Commonwealth of Kentucky chose not to license and regulate poker websites." PPA's Kentucky state chairman, Rich "The Engineer" Muny, also promised a more direct response to Beshear's actions in the coming days. A second hearing involving the forfeiture of the domain names is scheduled for October 25th.
The censorship issue regarding domain-name seizures is important as well, given that some sites included in the seizure attempt are information-only and all involve voluntary participation. Several previous attempts at domain seizures involving US concerns have been thrown out at later dates on First Amendment grounds, a topic likely to be pursued if and when Beshear's fast-tracked court order comes under challenge.