FRANKFORT — Kentucky is commandeering 141 domain names of Internet gambling sites in a novel legal move to crack down on the unregulated industry.
Franklin Circuit Judge Thomas Wingate ordered the names transferred to the state last week, Gov. Steve Beshear announced Monday.
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Sites affected include such names as caribbeangold.com and sportsbook.com.
If officials get their way at a Sept. 25 forfeiture hearing, the state will control the domain names and can ask Web registrars to block access to the sites, said Justice and Public Safety Secretary J. Michael Brown.
Kentucky would become the first state to seize a gambling operation's domain name, Brown said.
He acknowledged that such a move could block access to the domains worldwide, but said he was interested only in its effect on Kentucky.
Beshear, who supports allowing casino gambling in Kentucky, called the online operations "leeches on our communities." Kentucky loses tens of millions of dollars a year to online gambling, which is illegal in every state, he said.
"Unlicensed, unregulated, illegal Internet gambling poses a tremendous threat to the citizens of the commonwealth because of its ease, availability and anonymity," Beshear said.
Mike Stone, executive director of the Kentucky Council on Problem Gambling, said his group supports all efforts against illegal gambling.
"Many college students have put themselves at risk for online gambling, especially with poker and other online card games," Stone said.
Kentucky's efforts follow on the heels of a 2006 federal law that forces U.S. banks and credit card companies to block electronic transactions to Internet gambling businesses.
"But that did not mark the end of Internet gambling," Stone said.
Besides creating ways for youths to wager, Beshear said, unlicensed Internet gambling undermines horse racing by creating untaxed competition, makes it difficult to trace online laundering schemes and lacks consumer protections to ensure that people actually receive their winnings.
Beshear, who is pushing for casino gambling in the state, said he has no intention of pursuing Internet gambling as an option in Kentucky.
The Lexington law firm of Hurt, Crosbie & May and the Geneva, Ill., firm of Foote, Meyers, Mielke & Flowers are representing the state in the court action.
Brown said the firms are being used instead of Attorney General Jack Conway's office because the matter is a civil, instead of a criminal, action. The cost of the state's legal representation was not immediately available.
Brown would not say whether the actions of the illegal Internet operators would lead to criminal prosecution.
"That's beyond my purview," he said.