Published by LawTechie - April 18, 2011 - LawTechie

Federal authorities have begun to seek domain forfeiture of popular online gambling websites including PokerStars, Full Tilt Poker, UB and Absolute Poker. (See indictment here.)

The indictments seek the return of $3 billion in allegedly ill-gotten gains. The charges come amid renewed efforts to legalize online gaming in the United States, and as U.S. authorities increasingly invoke asset-forfeiture statutes to seize the American online domains of sites deemed illicit.

Those indicted on Friday are accused of masking payments from U.S. gamblers (.pdf) in the form of jewelry, golf balls and flower sales — all in a bid to circumvent the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act. The top-level domain seizures include PokerStars, Full Tilt Poker, UB and Absolute Poker. Some of the sites were still rendering Friday afternoon.

The Federal government is increasingly utilizing 18 USC 982 (the Federal criminal forfeiture statute) and 18 USC 2319 to go after domains in internet-based legal violations. Recall this statute being used, in a troubling, due process violating sort of way, to seize domains in violation of criminal copyright infringement.

Interestingly, 18 USC 982 was originally meant to provide for seizure of drugs and similar contraband in drug raids and does not mention copyright infringement, online gambling, or even domain seizure (18 USC 2319 also does not expressly provide for domain seizure). Even more interesting is the fact that the above-mentioned poker websites are all based in foreign countries. Certainly they are accused, and are probably guilty, of violating US laws, but it is quite novel to see one country punish another country’s citizens (who are still abroad) for violating its laws — of course the US still does own the .com top-level domain, so it certainly can be done.

Hopefully, we will see some Supreme Court challenges and clarification in the near future about domain forfeiture as a criminal punishment and about the proper procedures for effecting such seizure sans violating due process (as this writer currently feels the government is doing).

LawTechie is a blog focusing on trends in tech and digital media. Areas covered include intellectual property, cyberlaw, venture capital, transactions and litigation as they relate to the emerging sectors. The blog is edited by the firm's partner Tim Bukher with contributions from the firm's experts in their respective areas of law.

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