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Antigua Consults With Gaming Allies At The WTO

by Ulrika Lomas,, Brussels

20 October 2006

Tiny Caribbean state Antigua and Barbuda, trying to defend Internet gaming - one of its few economic success stories - against the mighty United States, consulted this week at the WTO in Geneva with the EU, Japan and China, who have joined its WTO dispute as third parties.

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.

Antigua, with the agreement of the US, has asked for a 'dispute resolution panel' at the WTO, which will rule on the US' compliance - or otherwise - with the WTO's decisions. The assistance of the third parties will be seen as crucial to Antigua's chances of success, although it seems to be shooting for the moon to suppose that the US will easily put aside its recent legislation. "This baldly protectionist legislation, tacked on to a major security bill at the last possible minute, is as contrary to the decision of the WTO in our case as can possibly be imagined," said lawyer Mark Mendel, who leads Antigua's WTO legal team. "Expanding domestic remote gambling while at the same time further impeding our operators the right to provide these services - which the United States committed to do under the WTO agreements - is almost impossible to comprehend." Perhaps things will look different after the upcoming mid-term Congressional elections.

"Now that both sides have filed their respective submissions to the WTO Panel that will hear our case against the US claim that it is 'in compliance' with the rulings and recommendations of the WTO's Dispute Settlement Body, and with the October 23 deadline for submissions by third party Members of the WTO, these consultations with the third parties provide us with an important opportunity to address all aspects of our case," said Dr Errol Cort, Antigua's Minister of Finance and the Economy.

Caribbean Net News reports that Kaye MacDonald, Director of Gaming, expressed her satisfaction with the involvement of third party WTO Members and praised their continued involvement in the uphill struggle against the United States. "Given the importance of the industry to our overall economy, we are pleased that the third parties, having examined the merits of our case, have decided to stay the course," she said.

"From the outset, the US action in this case leaves a lot to be desired and recent US Congressional actions have, in my view, further compounded the apparent disregard for the WTO's dispute settlement mechanism," said the delegation's Legal Adviser, Mark Mendel.

Antigua-based operators are thought to account for 25% of the estimated $12 billion wagered online by American punters every year.

Apart from the new legislation, Antigua has been alarmed by other recent developments such as the June 1st indictment against BetonSports, effectively shutting down the company which ran its US internet business from Costa Rica and Antigua, and the attempted extradition levelled at the chairman of Sportingbet, Peter Dicks, by the Louisiana authorities, who accused him of "gambling by computer", thereby violating the state's morality laws.

Costa Rica, Alderney, Gibraltar, Malta and the Isle of Man will be among the e-gaming centres anxiously watching the progress of Antigua's case in Geneva.

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