Illinois Judge Confirms Lower Court's Dismissal Of Amaya / PokerStars Lawsuit

Federal Court Rules PokerStars Not Liable For Illinois Online Poker Player Losses

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Amaya, the parent company of PokerStars, appears to have finally put to rest a class action lawsuit after again winning an appeal on a case originating out of Illinois.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit upheld a lower court’s decision to dismiss the case. The court battle — Kelly Sonnenberg, et al., vs. Amaya — had been going on since before PokerStars had been acquired by Amaya.

You can read the entire decision here.

The basics of the decision

The Sonnenbergs were seeking damages from PokerStars based on an Illinois statute that allows recovery of losses stemming from illegal gambling.

The question at issue is whether state gambling law allows recovery of losses from someone running a poker game — in this case PokerStars — in which the operator has no direct stake in the outcome of a game.

Judge Richard Posner again rejected the plaintiffs’ arguments, saying an online poker site is not a “winner” as defined by state law. From the decision:

The defendants are the gambling sites, not the persons who won from Daniel and Casey in a game hosted by the site (and the mothers didn’t even gamble at any of the sites). A winner would be a person whom a player had played with and lost to. …

And later:

It’s true that the sites rake off some of the money in the pot, and it is this that causes the plaintiffs to call the sites “winners.” But charging a fee for engaging in gambling is not the same as winning a gamble; a croupier who supervises a casino’s poker game is not a gambler, let alone a winner.

What the decision means

According to a lawyer for Amaya, Judge Posner gave a clear victory to his client:

“This is not just a solid victory for our clients, but also a timely recognition by this country’s leading jurist that gambling is no longer considered a threat to the public welfare,” said counsel Jeff Ifrah, whose firm, Ifrah Law, represents Amaya.

“Judge Posner went beyond what was necessary to decide this matter by noting that rather than focus on gamblers as victims, the law should recognize the wager one pays as the functional equivalent of a fee paid for everyday entertainment,” Ifrah continued.

Intersection with Kentucky case

The decision comes as Amaya is fighting a similar – but unrelated – court battle in Kentucky over the return of player losses in that state.

A judge there recently ordered Amaya to fork over $870mm, a decision the company is appealing.

While the loss recovery statutes of Illinois and Kentucky are similar in a broad sense, they are not identical. With that said, the overlap could easily mean that the Illinois decision will come into play as Amaya moves its appeal up the ladder.

Is that the end of the road in Illinois?

The protracted legal battle appears to be over for good this time.

The final recourse for the plaintiffs would be to ask for an en banc reharing in front the full Seventh Circuit — an exceedingly unlikely request to be granted.

That means Amaya’s legal team can likely turn its attention away from this case.

- Dustin Gouker has been a sports journalist for more than 15 years, working as a reporter, editor and designer -- including stops at The Washington Post and the D.C. Examiner. He has played poker recreationally for his entire adult life and has written about poker since 2008.
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