Analyzing Full Tilt Poker's Legal Woes
Full Tilt Poker has seemed to be under assault lately, making the news for two potential legal issues. It has been enough for some players to wonder whether their money is safe on the world's second-largest poker site.
Taking a closer look at the issues, one appears to be a joke while the other, though potentially very serious, really is too premature to call an issue.
The Kentucky case is an example of lawyers working on a contingency fee trying another avenue for their big score because their attempt to seize Internet gambling domain names isn't going as planned. Full Tilt is being singled out in the case because Pocket Kings Ltd is the only company specifically named in the suit.
However, Kentucky attorneys plan on including the companies behind all of the 141 domain names they attempted to seize. That is who is included in "unknown defendants." The commonwealth's attorneys just don't know who to go after as operators of the other sites. They happened to know to go after Pocket Kings because of civil lawsuits against Full Tilt in other jurisdictions. Kentucky lawyers have asked for leave of court for a discovery period to ascertain the identities of the other defendants.
Regardless of how many defendants commonwealth attorneys can identify, the lawsuit is a stretch to say the least. The lawsuit is based on an antiquated Kentucky law that states that, in cases of illegal gambling, a third party can sue on behalf of the loser to recover triple the amount that was lost. But Kentucky residents didn't lose any bets or hands to Full Tilt or another site. Poker is a person-to-person game, and any hands lost were to other individuals. The poker sites provide only a service and venue on which to play.
The Franklin Circuit Court in which the lawsuit was filed and its Judge Thomas Wingate already showed bias in approving the seizure, which was later overturned by the Kentucky Court of Appeals, so it's possible this case gains traction no matter how frivolous. However, judges don't like to have their rulings overturned so Wingate might be hesitant to advance another highly questionable Internet gambling case.
News of a possible grand jury investigation of Full Tilt Poker is potentially much more serious, but only potentially because nothing official has actually happened. The Financial Times is the only major media outlet to report of this possible grand jury investigation. That's not to say the story is false. The Financial Times is a respected international newspaper, the equivalent of The Wall Street Journal in the U.S.
Grand jury investigations are sealed, and anyone who leaked word of an investigation to the Financial Times was breaking the law. The Department of Justice attorneys in Manhattan are the best of the best, and not people anyone wants to go up against. However, assuming that the Financial Times was correct about an ongoing investigation, it would still be unclear how far along that investigation would be. Grand jury investigations are like a pretrial. A jury of between 16 to 23 individuals hears evidence and sees witnesses presented by the prosecutor, then the court requires that 12 of the jurors find probable cause that a crime was committed before indictments are issued.
For poker players on Full Tilt, a possible federal grand jury investigation is reason for concern but certainly not for panic. If indictments come down, the burden would be on the prosecutor to turn "probable cause" to "beyond a reasonable doubt," but the Manhattan federal prosecutors are not to be taken lightly.
For now, it's too early to worry about because nothing has actually happened. Play on Full Tilt goes on as usual.
We'll be following both of these matters closely and will bring you any breaking news as it comes. Follow us on Twitter for up-to-the-minute news.