The following article was originally published in Casino Executive and is presented in Gaming floor with permission of the author. Professor Rose can be reached at his web site: www.GamblingAndTheLaw.com

The Major Internet Gambling Case That Isn't

A recent decision by Manhattan Judge Charles Edward Ramos of the Supreme
Court of New York has created a minor panic in the Internet gaming
community.  A company which designs software for on-line casinos saw the
price of its stock plummet.  Operators who had been taking bets from New
Yorkers wonder whether they have to avoid the state, or perhaps the entire
country.  Owners of other gaming websites, who had prohibited wagers from
Americans, now fear being dragged into U.S. courts if undercover cops lie
about their addresses.

The decision does contain some rather startling language: "The Internet
site creates a virtual casino within the user's computer terminal."  Judge
Ramos held that because the user was in New York, the licensed Antigua
company could be sued in New York.

There are a few reasons not to be overly concerned about this decision.  In
fact, this supposedly  major Internet gambling case is neither major, nor
primarily about Internet gambling.
 

  • Despite its name, the "Supreme Court" of New York is only a trial court.  The decision is important to the parties involved in the law suit, but is not of any precedence for anyone else.
  • Much of the opinion involves a discussion of federal law.  While intellectually  interesting, the conclusions of this state trial judge are not binding.
  • The "user" was an undercover agent, who was automatically cut off when she entered her address as New York.  She logged on again and this time typed in "Nevada."  The opinion is misleading when it implies that a foreign corporation can be forced to defend a law suit in a state when its only contact with that state is created by a customer's intentional misrepresentation.
  • The fact that the operator was licensed in Antigua was irrelevant; and
  • The fact that the operator's server was in Antigua was irrelevant; and
  • The fact that the operator was incorporated in Antigua was irrelevant; because. . .
This was actually a New York company doing business in New York, with
principals and assets in New York.  The case revolved around allegations
that the defendants sold unregistered securities through a New York boiler
room operation to New Yorkers.  So, of course the courts of New York have
the power to seize a New York bank account and to enjoin activities which
were found to have been run out of offices in New York.

Judges always write opinions as if the losing side had almost no facts or
law on its side.  So we do not know what evidence defendants' attorneys
presented which the judge may have ignored.  But we do know that Judge Ramos
found the following:

The defendants "are clearly doing business in New York..."
The corporation with the Antigua gaming license, Golden Chips Casino
("GCC"), is a wholly owned subsidiary of another corporation, World
Interactive Gaming Corp. ("WIGC").  Judge Ramos found GCC was so dominated
by WIGC that "he deemed GCC an alter ego of WIGC."  As one example: "All GCC
top employees were hired by and reported to WIGC."

Although WIGC was incorporated in Delaware, its entire business was
operated from its headquarters in Bohemia, New York.  It was from the New
York office that defendants "fraudulently" and "actively solicited investors
to buy WIGC shares."

A court of appeals will undoubtedly find that it need not consider Judge
Ramos's discussion of Internet activities to and from Antigua, because so
much of the gaming operation took place in New York.
 "All administrative and executive decisions as well as the computer
research and development of the Internet gambling website were made in New
York."  "From their New York corporate headquarters, they downloaded,
viewed, and edited their Internet casino website."

The casino website and its servers were purchased by the New York parent
company.

Most damning, Judge Ramos held that the gaming website was actually run out
of New York, not Antigua.  "The use of the GCC casino website was handled
from WIGC's corporate headquarters" in New York.
 "The evidence also indicates that the individuals who gave the computer
commands operated from WIGC's New York office."

It is said that bad cases make bad law.

Judge Ramos's decision that New York had power over these defendants and
their bank account was correct.  But his discussion of the Internet in
general and Internet gambling in particular is an example of unnecessary and
bad law.

Let's hope no one will try to use this case to sue foreign companies which
are truly not doing business in the states.

For if they do, we will have bad law making bad cases.

©Copyright 1999, all rights reserved worldwide. Gambling and the Law® is a registered trademark of Professor I. Nelson Rose, Whittier Law School, Costa Mesa, CA.
www.GamblingAndTheLaw.com
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