The US District Court of New Jersey dismissed a motion this Tuesday that was made by Interactive Media Entertainment and Gaming Association Inc. (iMEGA) last year. iMEGA had been seeking an injunction against the implementation of the Unlawful Internet Gambling and Enforcement act (UIGEA) and this is the result of that motion. Their intention was for them to be temporarily relieved, in a confined location, of the binding legal ramifications of the UIGEA.
iMEGA has been granted status to appeal the decision as well as to be legally recognized by the court as an association that may act on behalf of members potentially affected by UIGEA implementation. Having this legal standing will allow the group to continue to appeal or even file a new action against the legislation on different grounds.
The multi-part decision, given by US District Judge Mary L. Cooper, first took to examining the legal status of iMEGA. This was done in part so that the court could be sure they had a legal basis for moving to action against the UIGEA in the first place. Their legal status was approved almost immediately which eliminated the many government led cross-motions that had been seeking a blanket dismissal of the case from the start. Judge Cooper went on to note that there was a threat of “imminent financial ruin” and that there was even a possibility of criminal penalty. Because of this she immediately conferred upon iMEGA the legal standing needed to continue with the case.
Government officials continued to attack iMEGA, trying to the stop the case on the basis of a legal principle called “ripeness”. “Ripeness” essentially means that because all of the regulations called for by the UIGEA have not yet been implemented, the case should be dismissed.
As the case got underway, one of the first claims by iMEGA against the UIGEA was that it infringed upon their 1st Amendment right to “free speech”. This was immediately dismissed by Judge Cooper on the grounds that, "UIGEA does not have any adverse impact, much less a significant one, on the ability of the plaintiff and its members to express their views on Internet gambling," she then went on to say that, “The acceptance of a financial transfer is not speech. As the UIGEA does not impact expression, it does not come within the purview of the First Amendment.
"The plaintiff's claims express a fundamental disagreement with Congress's judgment that Internet gambling should be controlled legislatively, and pose questions as to whether (the law) … will be successful in accomplishing its desired ends," she wrote. "But it is not the court's role to pass on the wisdom of a Congressional act or speculate as to its effectiveness."
Judge Cooper also dismissed the argument that by passing the UIGEA the US put itself in violation of its own World Trade Organization agreements. Although a compelling argument, it was dismissed on the grounds that such a challenge must be brought up by the government itself, not by an individual or private group.
iMEGA chairman Joe Brennan, Jr. made a statement in the wake of the dismissal, "Judge Cooper found that banks, credit card companies and other payment system instruments are exempt from criminal sanctions under UIGEA," said Brennan, "significantly undercutting UIGEA's enforcement mechanism. Her ruling echoes the growing consensus of opinion that UIGEA is a fundamentally flawed statute."
He released the previous statement following the final conclusion reached by Judge Cooper on the matter. Her statement was as follows, “The plaintiff's claims express a fundamental disagreement with Congress's judgment that Internet gambling should be controlled legislatively, and pose questions as to whether UIGEA, given its exceptions and conjectural enforcement problems, will be successful in accomplishing its desired ends. But it is not the Court's role to pass on the wisdom of a Congressional act or speculative on its effectiveness."
iMEGA has remained optimistic despite the fact that their motion has been dismissed. The decision was widely expected by iMEGA, but they see it as a step in the right direction. Unfortunately, the court did not have the power to overturn the UIGEA legislation but in large part agreed with some of iMEGA’s arguments.
"We remain hopeful that the government's motion will be denied,” commented iMEGA’s Ed Leyden, “ so that even if our own motion (for a preliminary injunction) is also denied, we'll still be teed up to fight these vital issues of digital civil right.”