A group of poker players say they — and not the state of Kentucky — should have a cut or all of a potential multimillion-dollar judgment against online gambling sites.
The Poker Players Alliance, which says it represents 14,000 Kentucky poker players, filed a motion last week to intervene in the 2010 case filed on behalf of the state against online gambling companies.
The motion to intervene was filed after Franklin Circuit Judge Thomas Wingate awarded a $290 million judgment against Amaya Group Holdings and a subsidiary on Nov. 20. The state sued the companies in 2010, saying the online gambling companies have violated the state’s prohibition on gambling.
Don Cox, a lawyer for the poker players, argued during a hearing Wednesday in Franklin Circuit Court that the poker players and not the state are entitled to any damages awarded in the lawsuit against the online gambling companies.
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“No one in this case is representing the interest of poker players,” Cox said. He said the players were not aware of the lawsuit until the Nov. 20 judgment was entered.
But William Hurt, a Lexington lawyer whose firm sued the online gambling companies on behalf of the state, said the poker players were aware of the lawsuit for four years and did not seek to intervene until after Wingate entered his judgment.
No poker player came forward with a complaint during the time period covered in the lawsuit — Oct. 12, 2006, to April 15, 2011, Hurt said. Moreover, Hurt said, the Poker Players Alliance is working in concert with Amaya, the owner of Pokerstars.com, to protect the company from having to pay higher damages.
The state statute allows a third party to seek three times or treble damages but does not allow a single party — such as a poker players group — to seek triple damages.
“They have tried to convert this into a single-party case in order to not have to pay the treble damages,” Hurt said in court Wednesday. He said the Poker Players Alliance has filed court documents in support of the online gambling companies in companion cases and was funded by Pokerstars.com.
The state and Amaya have asked Wingate to reconsider how he calculated the $290 million judgment. Both sides argue the judgment is calculated incorrectly, but for different reasons. In addition, Hurt has asked Wingate for triple damages. The state’s lawyers think Amaya owes $250 million, and tripling those damages would mean damages of $750 million.
Cox denied Poker Players Alliance and Amaya were acting in concert so the amount of damages would be less.
“We are not funded by PokerStars. There is no evidence in the record to support that,” Cox said. Moreover, the state statute allows the poker players to intervene, Cox argued.
Wingate said in court Wednesday tgat he would rule soon on the motion to reconsider the $290 million judgment but gave no indication when he would rule on whether the poker players may intervene in the case.
Sheryl Snyder, a lawyer who represents Amaya, said after Wednesday’s hearing that it was almost certain the case would be appealed once Wingate enters his final order. That means it could be years before any money is paid.
Amaya has argued that the state does not have standing to sue the online poker companies. Wingate ruled previously that state statute allows the state to sue on behalf of online gamblers.
“If the judgment is for hundreds of millions of dollars, it is almost certain that it will be appealed,” Snyder said.
The lawsuit started under former Gov. Steve Beshear. A spokeswoman for Gov. Matt Bevin said the nearly elected governor supports efforts to recover money on behalf of the state.
“We have been briefed by counsel for the commonwealth and support their efforts in this longstanding litigation,” said Jessica Ditto, a spokeswoman for Bevin. “We await further word from the Franklin Circuit Court after its consideration of the remaining issues.”