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Antigua Protests US Anti-Gaming Law

by Mike Godfrey,, Washington

10 October 2006

Antigua and Barbuda's Minister of Finance, Dr Errol Cort, just returned from a visit to the US to persuade officials to accept the WTO's anti-US ruling on Internet gambling, has expressed shock and dismay at the passage by Congress of the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006.

Stated Dr Cort: "It is remarkable that on the heels of our visit, during the course of which we highlighted the desire of Antigua to amicably work together with the United States Government in ensuring the safe delivery of these services to consumers in America, the Congress should choose to further protect their remote domestic industry at the cost of countries such as Antigua and Barbuda, where these services are highly regulated."

While expanding domestic opportunities for legal gaming, the legislation 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. The provisions were tacked by Senate Majority Leader, Bill Frist (R-Tenn) onto an unrelated bill on port security and have been sent to President George W. Bush for his signature.

Dr Cort's delegation held a series of meetings with representatives of the US Department of State, the US Trade Representative, the Department of Justice and with Members of Congress, in an attempt to resolve the impasse over the American government's refusal to comply with a WTO ruling against US actions preventing banks from processing transactions from online gaming firms based in the islands.

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.

Commenting on the passage of the legislation, Frist argued that: "Gambling is a serious addiction that undermines the family, dashes dreams, and frays the fabric of society. Congress has grappled with this issue for 10 years, and during that time we've watched this shadow industry explode. For me as majority leader, the bottom line is simple: Internet gambling is illegal. Although we can't monitor every online gambler or regulate offshore gambling, we can police the financial institutions that disregard our laws."

Non-US commentators almost unanimously see the legislation as blatantly protectionist and hypocritical, and note that it should probably be seen as political in nature, given the up-coming mid-term Congressional elections.

"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."

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