Kelly Sonnenberg’s Case Against PokerStars Dismissed in Illinois

PokerStarsOn Friday, PokerStars won a dismissal against a class action lawsuit accusing the company of being an illegal online gambling operation with the aim of trying to reclaim lost money for a number of Illinois residents. According to Ifrah Law, who represented PokerStars in the case, the dismissal likely ends the plaintiffs’ class action efforts on PokerStars.

In the complaint, Illinois resident Sonnenberg is representing a group of “hundreds of thousands – possibly millions – of Illinois poker players who lost money to PokerStars.” Kelly Sonnenberg is claimed to be related to one of the Illinois online poker players that has incurred losses on PokerStars, registering an account and playing there prior to Black Friday.

The plaintiff is trying to recover gambling losses as per the Illinois Loss Recovery Act (LRA), which permits individuals to recover losses on behalf of third parties, provided that the third parties fail to recover losses on their own within six months of the gambling losses occurring.

Sonnenberg is claiming damages from the gambling losses alleging that PokerStars was operating an illegal offshore gaming website during this period of time, and according to the Illinois Loss Recovery Act, had every right to claim the losses.

According to the LRA, if the plaintiff had won her case, she could have claimed up to three times the amount that was lost because of losing money on PokerStars over a five-year period starting from when the UIGEA bill was passed in 2006 through to Black Friday in April of 2011. In total, there was losses in the millions of dollars.

During the class action lawsuit process, the court eventually adopted the view that considering the fact that poker is a game that is played against other players, it brings to question whether PokerStars, the entity at the centre of this lawsuit, could be considered the “winner.”

The court came to the decision that PokerStars is “more akin to a third party service provider that provides a forum for others to play the game,” and furthermore, the online poker room “did not have a stake in how the game is decided.” In other words, PokerStars is simply a third party that hosts online poker games, and has no preference for who wins and loses in their games.

With PokerStars not having any stake in the game, in effect it could not be considered the “winner”. It did not benefit from the outcome of their games. The court also dismissed the plaintiffs’ claims on the basis that “The first amended complaint is devoid of allegations stating the ‘who,’ ‘what’ and ‘when’ of the losses she seeks to recover.” As a result, the class action against online poker giant PokerStars was dismissed, since with no obvious “winner” no one could be chased to recover the internet gambling losses.

Ifrah Law attorney Rachel Hirsch, who defended PokerStars in this case, said “This was an incredibly high-stakes case,” which is not hugely surprising, as with the Illinois Loss Recovery Act awarding as much as triple the amount of losses at stake, this would have set a huge precedent for future claims.

Jeff Ifrah, founder of Ifrah Law said “This is a major victory for PokerStars and instructive for other online gaming providers facing similar attacks from plaintiffs seeking unjust windfalls.” Online gaming operators definitely breathed a huge sigh of relief after hearing the outcome of the Sonnenberg case against PokerStars. The Rational Group (PokerStars) was also represented by David Deitch, member of Ifrah PLLC, and Laura Craft-Schrick/William Niehoff, members of Mathis, Marifian, Richter & Grandy, Ltd, a law firm in Belleville, IL.