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Legal Stories Dominate Poker Headlines

By Haley Hintze


Department of Justice attorneys working on business matters connected to the “Black Friday” case (United States v. PokerStars, et. al.) recently filed a motion to strike Kentucky’s claim of ownership against several gambling-related internet domains involved in the case. Kentucky sought to seize 141 gambling domains in a notorious 2008 legal maneuver that brought protests from far beyond the gambling sector, including internet-freedom and business groups. The DOJ’s motion offers evidence that Kentucky never actually seized anything (despite the commonwealth’s claims) and that Kentucky’s motions to attach in connection with the “Black Friday” case be denied, because the commonwealth lacks standing to file, cannot claim certain defendants’ rights, and the claim interferes with national sovereignty matters. The DOJ brief also rejected Kentucky’s claims for costs, interest, and attorney’s fees.


Nevada-based casino equipment manufacturer ShuffleMaster Inc., and UK sportsbetting site, PaddyPower, are the latest applicants to pass suitability hearings before the Nevada Gaming Commission, in advance of that state’s rollout of onlinepoker offerings later this year. The two companies join Bally Tech and IGT in receiving preliminary approval, and, like those two, ShuffleMaster’s application is as a manufacturer and provider of gambling equipment to be used in conjunction with online-poker services. Both ShuffleMaster and PaddyPower are expected to receive full approval when the state’s hearing process resumes.


Full Tilt player owners: Howard Lederer, Rafael “Rafe” Furst, and Chris “Jesus” Ferguson, have all filed motions to dismiss federal civil cases brought against them in conjunction with the Black Friday charges against Full Tilt, citing a general lack of evidence of wrongdoing. None of the three were among the eleven Black Friday defendants indicted on criminal charges, as compared to Full Tilt executives Ray Bitar and Nelson Burtnick, who face numerous bank- and wire-fraud counts. The actions against Lederer, Furst, and Ferguson sought tens of millions in dollars in penalties for allegedly defrauding customers under the auspices of the United States’ Illegal Gambling Business Act (IGBA).


In a surprising move to many industry watchers, Department of Justice prosecutors have filed a brief, arguing for leniency in the upcoming sentencing of Absolute Poker vice president Brent Beckley. Beckley is one of seven “Black Friday” indictees who has surrendered to, or been captured by US authorities to date, and is the stepbrother of AP co-founder Scott Tom, who remains at large. The DOJ attorneys protested a possible “upward departure” by presiding judge Lewis A. Kaplan, meaning the possibility of a sentence in excess of standard guidelines. A recent court brief describes Beckley’s cooperation and voluntary return to the US, plus his willful and non-contesting admission to the charges brought by DOJ.


A federal online-poker bill might yet happen in 2012, if recent published reports have merit. Both the Las Vegas Sun and Las Vegas Review-Journal recently published feature stories describing renewed negotiations between the Democratic (Sen. Harry Reid) and Republican (Sen. Jon Kyl) camps, with Nevada’s junior Senator, Republican Dean Heller, serving as a key go-between, between the opposing factions. Several pieces highlight the push by individual states, including Nevada, to legalize various forms of online gambling as the impetus for the new negotiations, suggesting that federal efforts might be moot if not accomplished soon. The LVRJ piece quoted Heller as stating that as many as 16 states have already considered regulatory measures.


Full Tilt founder, Ray Bitar, was approved for bail after a renegotiated $2.4 million bond package was agreed to by presiding Judge Paul Engelmayer. Englemayer, who replaced original judge, Lewis Kaplan, when Kaplan recused himself from Bitar’s case, signed off on a deal calling for $1 million in cash plus additional holdings (including a California warehouse valued at slightly more than $1 million). Bitar also needed to provide commitments from five close friends and relatives, will be monitored continuously via electronic ankle bracelet, and can travel only in California and New York in connection with his case.

Veteran poker-industry writer/editor Haley Hintze is the author of an upcoming book on the Absolute Poker and UltimateBet online cheating scandals, to be released later this year.

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