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Mom adds son as plaintiff in Illinois class action against PokerStars

By Kyla Asbury | Apr 25, 2014

EAST ST. LOUIS, Ill. (Legal Newsline) - A second amended complaint has been filed in a class action against the online poker site PokerStars for recovery of gambling losses.

In the second amended complaint, which was filed April 14 in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Illinois, Casey Sonnenberg, Kelly Sonnenberg's son, is now listed as a plaintiff in the class action.

Previously, Kelly Sonnenberg was the only plaintiff in the lawsuit, suing on behalf of others similarly situated.

The defendants in the class action are now Oldford Group Ltd., Rational Entertainment Enterprises Ltd. and "Unknown Defendants." Previous defendants Isai Scheinberg, Paul Tate, Nelson Burtnick, Pyr Software Ltd., Stelekram ltd. and Sphene International Ltd. have been removed.

In three counts in the amended complaint, Kelly Sonnenberg brings her action individually and on behalf of Illinois residents that lost money on PokerStars pursuant to the Illinois Loss Recovery Act.

In the remaining nine counts, Casey Sonnenberg brings his action to recover money he lost on PokerStars. He represents a class of similarly situated Illinois residents who gambled and lost money on PokerStars.

On March 14, one count was dismissed in the class action, and Kelly Sonnenberg was given until April 12 to file an amended complaint that agrees with the memorandum and order.

In his March 14 ruling, District Judge David R. Herndon said that PokerStars is "more akin to a third party service provider that provides a forum for others to play the game and does not have a stake in how the game is decided."

In June, the chairman of PokerStars, Mark Scheinberg, agreed to pay $50 million to federal prosecutors connected to a 2011 money laundering lawsuit in which PokerStars agreed to pay $731 million to settle.

Congress passed legislation in 2006 that banned online gambling, but it was largely unenforced until April 15, 2011, when federal prosecutors arrested executives and investors of several Internet poker sites.

Kelly Sonnenberg claimed Illinois residents were targeted by the defendants, navigated to the PokerStars website, opened accounts and deposited their own funds into those accounts. Sonnenberg claimed her son incurred a loss.

Sonnenberg sought to recover gambling losses of PokerStars' Illinois players under the Illinois Loss Recovery Act, which allows individuals to collect losses on behalf of third parties, provided those third parties fail to make their own claim within six months of losing the wager.

However, Illinois courts have held that the winner, and not the "keeper of the house," is liable to the loser, unless the keeper of the house also risks money in the gambling activity (Holmes v. Brickey), according to an Ifrah Law press release.

"PokerStars Group acted as a conduit for transmission of the prize money to the winner and it did not risk any of its money in producing the prize money to the winner....Based on the allegations contained in the first amended complaint, plaintiff has not pled that [Rational Entertainment] is a 'winner,'" Herndon ruled.

Herndon also found that Sonnenberg had not sufficiently detailed a "loser" or a "loss."

"While Sonnenberg's affidavit in response to the motion to dismiss states that she is seeking recovery based on her son's losses; the first amended complaint is devoid of allegations stated the 'who' 'what' and 'when' of the losses she seeks to recover," Herdnon said. "However, the court finds that Sonnenberg has sufficiently alleged that the losses occurred in Illinois through the illegal gambling Internet site."

Herndon found that the parties have not "adequately developed/addressed REEL's argument that the forfeiture of the PokerStars group of companies' profits by the United States precludes this cause of action and because of that, the court is not in a position to rule on that issue at this time."

The lawsuit was originally filed on Aug. 24, 2012, in the Circuit Court for the 20th Judicial Circuit-St. Clair County, Ill., and was removed to federal court on April 9.

The plaintiffs are being represented by Lloyd M. Cueto of the Law Office of Lloyd M. Cueto PC; and Christopher F. Cueto and Michael J. Gras of the Law Office of Christopher Cueto Ltd.

REEL and Oldford are being represented by Laura E. Craft-Schrick and William J. Niehoff of Mathis, Marifian & Richter Ltd.; and David B. Deitch, Rachel Hirsch and A. Jeff Ifrah of Ifrah PLLC.

U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Illinois case number: 3:13-cv-00344

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