Supreme Court litigator Thomas Goldstein created a mystery three months ago when he left his perch at Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld with little explanation. Now, Goldstein and his former firm find themselves on opposite sides of the besieged Internet poker industry.
On Friday, the Justice Department unveiled criminal indictments and a civil complaint targeting online poker company PokerStars, among others. The Web site of Goldstein’s firm, Goldstein, Howe & Russell, lists PokerStars as a representative client.
On another side of the industry are the established, land-based casinos, which could stand to benefit from the prosecution of online poker companies. Akin Gump has counted one of these casino companies, Caesars Entertainment Corp., as a lobbying client since 2009, and the firm reported $480,000 in fees in 2010.
It’s not clear that the potential for a poker-related conflict was the reason Goldstein (pictured above) left Akin Gump in January. At the time, he said one of his largest clients had asked him to take on additional work, and that the client has a “love-hate relationship” with another Akin Gump client.
But if Goldstein had stayed, Akin Gump would be in the position of representing the largest online company in the U.S. market, PokerStars, and the world’s largest casino company, Caesars, at a time when those companies’ interests are in conflict. Goldstein did not respond to a request for comment today, and on Monday he declined to speak about the Justice Department’s enforcement action against the online poker industry. An Akin Gump spokeswoman declined to comment.
Goldstein, the founder of SCOTUSblog, has not entered an appearance in the government’s case against the online companies. The Am Law Daily reported on Monday that those companies have been looking for criminal defense counsel.
Legal Times described Goldstein as a longtime poker aficionado in 2008, as he prepared to play in that year’s World Series of Poker in Las Vegas. (He won a seat in the main event while playing at a fundraiser for the Prevent Cancer Foundation.) At the time, he also represented the Poker Players Alliance, a nonprofit that’s aligned with the online poker companies.
“It has great analytical benefits,” Goldstein said of the game then. "You learn a lot about people, too. It’s very social.”
By David Ingram and Mike Scarcella. National Law Journal photo by Diego M. Radzinschi.