Amaya Smacked with $870 Million Kentucky Court Fine

January 5th, 2016 | by Kaycee James
Kentucky Governor Bevin PokerStars Amaya

Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin supports a circuit court judge’s decision to fine PokerStars and its new owner Amaya $870 million for illegally operating in the state for five years. (Image: wevv.com)

Amaya is mad as hell and it’s not going to take it anymore.

That’s the company’s feedback on the latest in a dramatic case in Kentucky that’s been more riveting to watch than a telenovela.

The most recent developments have seen Kentucky Circuit Judge Thomas Wingate throwing the book at PokerStars and its parent company Amaya for the online poker network offering its services illegally in the Bluegrass State between 2006 and 2011.

In a decision made on December 23rd, Wingate handed down an $870,690,233 million penalty for executing “an illicit business plan,” leading some poker advocates to label Wingate as Scrooge for Christmas 2015.

Amaya plans to appeal the fine, with the company labeling the ruling “frivolous and egregious.”

“Given that PokerStars only generated gross revenues of approximately US $18 million from Kentucky customers during the five years at issue, a damages award in excess of US $800 million is notable only for its absurdity,” Amaya General Counsel Marlon Goldstein said.

Wingate’s figure is the result of $290 million in claimed damages, which he tripled, and then added 12 percent interest to in reaching the $870 million punishment.

Kentucky is one of just 12 states that does not offer any commercial or tribal gaming. A spokesperson for Governor Matt Bevin (R) said the governor was “pleased with the decision.”

Party Like It’s 1833

Wingate’s imposition is legal under Kentucky law, thanks to a statute passed in 1833 that allows a third party to sue to recover gambling losses if the immediate gambler fails to do so on his or her own accord within six months of losing at least $5.

Kentucky statute 372.040 reads, “If the loser or his creditor does not … sue for the money or thing lost, and prosecute the suit to recovery with due diligence, any other person may sue the winner, and recover treble the value of the money or thing lost, if suit is brought within five (5) years from the delivery or payment.”

Wingate’s decision won’t benefit the actual players who lost money on PokerStars, but simply line the pockets of trial lawyers hired by Kentucky, with the remaining funds going to the state’s own capital funds.

Poker Players Alliance Responds

The game’s leading US advocate for players, the Poker Players Alliance (PPA), quickly condemned the verdict.

“Judge Thomas Wingate’s decision to use a centuries-old statute to collect almost $1 billion in damages from PokerStars should benefit real Kentucky citizens whose money was lost, not big-spending politicians and government trial lawyers,” PPA Executive Director John Pappas said in a statement. “Kentucky citizens and poker players are very disappointed.”

Gambling has been a contentious issue in Kentucky for many years.

Democrats favor legalizing some sort of casino-style gaming in order to help pay for education, public pensions, and general state spending.

Republicans have long opposed such expansion and currently control both the governor’s office as well as 27 of the state senate’s 38 chairs.

Wingate is no stranger to controversial rulings. Last April, he ruled that the same-sex marriage ban of two couples was unconstitutional and stayed his decision until the Supreme Court made its landmark overturn in June.

That led to the infamous actions of Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis and her refusal to comply and issue same-sex marriage licenses, which drew national controversy to Kentucky for months.

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