Two men charged in a case that shut down U.S. operations for three Internet poker companies are likely to go on trial in March, a judge told lawyers Thursday.
U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan listened to arguments that included the question of whether poker can be considered gambling before telling the attorneys for former bank executive John Campos and co-defendant Chad Elie that a March 12 trial was almost certain.
"I think it's extraordinarily unlikely that the entire indictment will be dismissed," Kaplan said.
Campos and Elie appear to be the only men headed to trial after a dozen people were charged in the Internet gambling case. About half of those charged were never arrested and remain overseas while other cases seem likely to be resolved without a trial.
Campos formerly worked at SunFirst Bank in St. George, Utah. The bank processed money for foreign-based online poker sites PokerStars and Full Tilt Poker. Both men have pleaded not guilty.
Prosecutors sought $3 billion in money laundering penalties and forfeiture after bringing the charges against those who enabled the U.S. operations of three companies based overseas: PokerStars, Full Tilt Poker and Absolute Poker.
The indictment said the companies ran afoul of the law after the U.S. in October 2006 enacted the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act, which makes it a crime for gambling businesses to knowingly accept most forms of payment in connection with the participation of another person in unlawful Internet gambling.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Harlo Devlin-Brown told Kaplan that Congress did not intend to protect companies that knowingly process financial transactions for Internet gambling companies. He said Congress did intend to give a pass to cable companies, banks or Internet service providers in Internet gambling prosecutions unless they take a controlling role in gambling businesses.
Frederick Hafetz, a lawyer for Campos, argued that Campos and Elie are exempt from prosecution in the same way that the government maintains a cable company or an Internet provider should be exempt. He said the men were not involved in the businesses of the Internet poker companies.
Paul Clement, a lawyer for Elie, said Congress never intended to outlaw poker or Internet poker games, possibly because U.S. representatives and senators enjoyed the games themselves.
It was left undecided whether a jury will be left to decide if playing poker is considered gambling in New York.
Kaplan said it would be "very interesting to see whether there are 12 potential jurors in New York in this environment who think poker is not gambling or have no opinion on it."
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