Offshore online gambling corporation Bovada has already chosen not to do business in one US state. It might add a second to that list if a new lawsuit against the company proves ultimately successful.
A Kentucky resident has filed a lawsuit against Bovada, calling it an illegal enterprise and seeking restitution for the money she has lost. The plaintiff is also attempting to get the court to certify a class of people who also have lost money playing the online casino games and wagering on sporting events.
Woods v. Morris Mohawk Gaming Group, et al. surfaces
On Tuesday, lead plaintiff Billi Jo Woods filed her complaint in the US district court for the eastern district of Kentucky. In the filing, Woods contends she “has gambled and lost thousands of dollars gambling on Bovada’s websites” beginning earlier this year.
Among the defendants named in the complaint are the Morris Mohawk Gaming Group, which the filing states “distributes, makes, uses, makes available, promotes, sells, offers to sell and generates substantial revenues from … Internet domains registered and existing at www.bovada.lv and www.bovada.com.”
The other defendants include Harp Media BV, “a company based in Curaçao” which “has an ownership interest in the Bovada websites.” Among the allegations against the defendants are that they have “evaded the laws of Kentucky and other states” as Bovada has “advertised and presented itself to consumers in Kentucky as a legitimate online business.”
The proposed class would include “all individuals who, in the Commonwealth of Kentucky, gambled and lost $5.00 or more within a 24-hour period on Bovada.com during the applicable limitations period.” The court has yet to decide on the certification of that proposed class.
As relief, Woods wants the court to require “defendants to cease operation of its gambling devices; and/or” award “recovery of all lost monies, interest, and reasonable attorneys’ fees, expenses, and costs to the extent allowable.”
Jade Martinez-Pogue of Law360 reports that at this time, representation for the defendants has not registered with the court. That might allude to a difficulty in granting Woods such relief even if the court finds her arguments credible.
The problem with civil actions against offshore gambling sites
While Bovada might illegally offer online gambling to people in Kentucky, none of the defendants listed in Woods’ lawsuits are individual citizens of or corporations registered in the United States. As this is a private action and not a criminal matter, that carries some weight.
A United States court has limited authority to enforce penalties against foreign corporations and citizens of other nations. In this specific case, the nations that the defendants are citizens of do have extradition treaties with the US. However, that carries more weight in criminal matters than civil.
While the chances of Woods seeing a return of her funds and other relief remain murky because of these circumstances, the greatest potential of this complaint may be as a deterrent for offshore gambling websites like Bovada in Kentucky.
Bovada’s New York decision and Kentucky future
Shortly after New York legalized online sports betting, Bovada told customers in the state that it would no longer do business there. It cited the new law and an assessment that the threat of prosecution for violating New York law was too great according to Brad Allen of Legal Sports Report.
To date, though, Bovada continues to offer online gambling to players in essentially every other US state despite the illegality of doing so. What made New York different is that Bovada believed that law enforcement in the state might actually go after the company.
But wait, I thought online sports betting is legal in Kentucky now?
Earlier this year, Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear did finalize a law legalizing sports wagering in the state, including online betting. However, that legal status only applies to online sportsbooks that have a license from the state to accept wagers.
At this time, no online sportsbooks have such a license because the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission has yet to issue any. Multiple hopefuls have applied but Bovada is not among them. Bovada has never applied for a license in any US state to legalize and regulate sports betting to date.
Additionally, this law only applies to betting on sporting events. Playing real-money online casino games in Kentucky remains illegal both on a federal and state level. Bovada’s products are expressly illegal in Kentucky and throughout the US even if the chance of being prosecuted for using them is low.
For that reason, the greatest affect Woods’ lawsuit may have is raising awareness of the issue. That could apply to both private citizens and state agents. Should the state look to enforce its laws against Bovada, that could prompt Bovada to voluntarily pull out of Kentucky like it did New York.
Whether that would also entail returning Woods’ gambling losses is another matter. Woods might be partially responsible for making others aware that Bovada’s games are illegal in the state, though.