Not a drop in the bucket
The Kentucky Supreme Court has reinstated a judgment from a 2008 lawsuit against PokerStars. As a result, Stars’ parent company, Flutter Entertainment, is suddenly facing damages of around $1.3bn.
The court ruling was 4-3 in favor of the Kentucky state government having a legal right as a “person” to seek damages for losses that residents incurred when playing PokerStars’ “illegal” online poker games.
the Loss Recovery Act’s phrasing of “person” also applies to companies
Justice Samuel T. Wright III wrote the opinion on the Supreme Court case, published Thursday, outlining how the Loss Recovery Act’s phrasing of “person” also applies to companies. He said that the poker operations were part of an illegal internet criminal gambling syndicate that violated numerous court orders. Per state law, the government is entitled to triple damages. This means that the penalty is $870m plus compound interest of 12% per annum.
Justice Wright also opined that the actual cost to Kentucky could be greater than the financial penalty because of the harms of illegal gambling. Justices Michelle M. Keller, Debra Hembree Lambert, and Christopher Shea Nickell also ruled in favor of the state.
Reaction to the ruling
In a statement following the ruling, Flutter claimed that the state government’s argument does not follow modern established precedent. The company has not recognized any liability in the case.
Flutter did note that there are a few different potential legal avenues to explore following this ruling. Referring to the significant sum, the company said: “Flutter is confident that any amount it ultimately becomes liable to pay will be a limited proportion of the reinstated judgement.”
Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear welcomed the news of the Supreme Court decision. He outlined plans for the state to begin collecting the penalty from Flutter as soon as the court ruling becomes final.
Origins of the case
Online poker in the United States effectively became illegal in 2006 following the passing of the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA). Several poker sites, however, continued catering to US players, including PokerStars.
Kentucky authorities began to investigate offshore poker sites targeting its residents in 2007. The following year, the state government filed a lawsuit against Pokerstars, as it was still operating in the Kentucky, doing so until April 2011. Between 2006 and 2011, PokerStars operations earned about $18m in gross gaming revenue from Kentucky players.
As part of the original case, Kentucky authorities claimed that players in the state lost $290.2m in rake while playing on the PokerStars during the five-year period. The actual losses from playing were more substantial, according to the lawsuit.
In 2018, the Kentucky Court of Appeals overturned the Franklin Circuit Court’s 2015 ruling on the case, saying that the government did not meet the definition of a person.