Federal court justices generally have a reputation for being stern and humorless on the bench. That wasn’t the case last week when Justice Sean Harrington presided over a case involving online gambling and immigration. In his ruling, which ultimately favored the defendant, he quoted the eminent lyrics of Kenny Rogers, ‘The Gambler’.
The case revolved around incidents that actually occurred years ago. The defendant, Israeli citizen Ofer Cohen, had visited a friend in Canada in 2013, but due to having operated an allegedly illegal online gambling website back in 2009, the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada ordered him to leave the country.
For a brief period that lasted from July to September of 2009, Mr. Cohen and fellow Israelis, Sharon Alaluf and Uri Luzon, ran an online poker site. Luzon was arrested on unrelated drug charges, while arrest warrants were issued for Alaluf and Cohen for running a website that offered ‘prohibited games’. However, by the time the warrant was issued, Cohen had already left Israel.
When he turned up in Canada in 2013, the Immigration and Refugee Board decided he must be inadmissible to the nation of Canada. Where he went was of little consequence, but he could no longer remain on Canadian soil.
That ruling was based on the fact that the Board determined the operation of an online gambling website was illegal in Israeli.
On the surface, that may be true, but Justice Harrington dug deeper and found that the online poker site set up by Cohen and his partners may not have broken any laws at all.
The judge found that there was no conclusive evidence to prove that Cohen had conducted an illegal online gambling operation. Despite the presence of an arrest warrant, Harrington said that Israeli law defines prohibited games as those that depend “more on chance than on understanding or ability.”
Harrington determined that poker games may be based more on skill than luck, thereby potentially nullifying their categorization as prohibited games.
“If more a game of skill, the deportation order issued… against Mr. Cohen was unreasonable and must be set aside,” ruled Harrington. He also noted that Cohen’s online poker site provided No Limit Texas Hold’em games, and that no Israeli court has ever deemed such a game to be prohibited.
“Israeli courts have not held that all forms of poker are prohibited games,” Harrington said. “There has not been a blanket condemnation of poker as such.”
Thus Cohen’s request for judicial review of the Immigration and Refugee Board’s ruling was granted by Harrington, annulling the previous order of deportation. Mr. Cohen is not presently in Canada, but the new ruling could impact his eligibility to return in the future.
Justice Harrington’s closing arguments reverberated through the courtroom as he stole a lyrical page from the legendary Kenny Rogers himself, quoting famous lines from his 1978 hit, ‘The Gambler’.
“If you’re gonna play the game, boy
You better learn to play it right
You got to know when to hold ’em
Know when to fold ’em
Know when to walk away…”