Antigua and Barbudan authorities have announced that they will again launch WTO proceedings against the United States and its treatment of offshore gambling operators.
“Having won a landmark decision from the WTO in 2004 that United States laws criminalising remote gaming services offered to American consumers from Antigua were in violation of US international treaty obligations, Antigua and Barbuda has been unable despite sustained efforts to either get the United States to comply with the WTO ruling or to negotiate any nature of reasonable compromise to settle the dispute,” the government said.
“Last December’s surprise announcement by the United States Department of Justice that United States law did not prohibit many forms of internet gambling has been a game changer. Although the United States had lost the case at the WTO, its defence was predicated on its stated position that American laws prohibited all remote gaming, because the activity was so pernicious that it was incapable of being regulated to protect the public interest. Publicly, the United States had continued to use its supposed prohibition of all remote gaming as a basis for continued non-compliance with its international trade obligations.”
The territory's Minister of Finance and the Economy, Harold Lovell said: “Now that the entire basis for the United States' objection to allowing our trade in remote gaming services has gone away. It is increasingly impossible to understand why the United States has not complied with this decision.”
In the absence of successful negotiations, the government said the territory has a number of options at the WTO with which to force American compliance with the ruling. “In the coming days,” Lovell announced, “the government will be consulting with appropriate officials and legal counsel to determine the best way forward for our people and industry. We played by the rules and earned a hard-fought and fair victory. It is high-time that the United States do what it routinely expects from its own trading partners - comply with WTO law and rulings.”
The government continued: “Although the WTO ruled more or less in favour of Antigua last year, and required the US to amend its legislation to permit Antiguan gaming operations to offer their services to US citizens on a level-playing field, the opposite has happened, with the US not only stubbornly refusing to do any such thing, but now passing legislation to criminalize banks or payment processors who assist in e-gaming across state or international borders.”
“Indeed, since then the US has passed the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006, which while expanding domestic opportunities for legal gaming, effectively bans all international and inter-state online gaming, by making it illegal for banks and credit card firms to make payments to such internet operations.”
It was the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act which US prosecutors cited in their legal action against offshore gambling operators, including two other operators, industry leaders at the time, Pokerstars and Full Tilt Poker.
The Antiguan government has to date failed to gain the benefits of the protracted WTO legal case, with Antiguan enforcement actions historically limited to trade sanctions. Due to bilateral trade's inferior size in comparison to lost gambling sector revenue such actions would fail to adequately compensate the nation in any meaningful way. In 2006, it was estimated that Antigua held a 25% market share in the American market..
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