FRANKFORT — Online gambling advocates say Kentucky's governor is entering potentially dangerous territory with his administration's attempt to enforce a state law against Web sites based across the globe.
Groups opposed to Gov. Steve Beshear's ongoing civil lawsuit that seeks control of selected Internet domain names say Kentucky doesn't have jurisdiction and is violating constitutional due process rights. They say the state is seeking to stifle competition and question whether the gambling activity that occurs is even illegal.
"We're going to fight this one strongly," said Rich Muny, president of the Kentucky chapter of the Poker Players Alliance.
The Kentucky Justice and Public Safety Cabinet is attempting to block Kentuckians' access to online casinos, including some of the most popular in the world. State officials claim state law gives them authority to take "illegal gambling devices," in this case domain names.
Kentucky officials have asked Franklin County Circuit Judge Thomas Wingate to rule control of 141 gambling Web sites forfeit to the state. A hearing in the case is scheduled for Tuesday.
During the race to be governor last year, Beshear campaigned on a central theme supporting legalized casino gambling as a way to raise state revenue. Beshear tried, but he failed to get the General Assembly to put a proposed constitutional amendment before voters that would legalize casino gambling.
Beshear, in announcing the lawsuit last month, said that blocking Internet gambling sites in Kentucky would protect the state's "signature industry" and called such sites "leeches on our communities."
"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 at the time.
Some groups opposed to the state's actions met Monday before the hearing.
Derek Hunter, a spokesman for the Media Freedom Project, which is related to Americans for Tax Reform, called the state's move a "dangerous step" that raises constitutional issues about due process. Hunter said the government should not regulate Internet commerce.
Joe Brennan Jr., chairman of the Internet Media Entertainment & Gaming Association, claimed Kentucky's move was intended to thwart competition from other gambling interests currently in the state.
Kentucky already allows gambling on horse racing and bingo and has a state lottery.
"These are things that should trouble all Americans because this was all done in an effort to take out the competition," Brennan said.
Jeremiah Johnston, a spokesman for the Washington D.C.-based Internet Commerce Association, says Kentucky is overstepping into what should be a federal interstate commerce issue. Johnston said the precedent set by the case could have a "chilling effect" on Internet businesses.
"If all of a sudden your company pops up on the radar in some state and they can just take your address, it's like someone swooping down onto main street and taking your building," Johnston said. "You're out of business."