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Antigua Wants To Control Betonsports Assets

by Robin Pilgrim,, London

05 December 2006

Following recent US court approval of the agreement between the US Justice Department and Antigua-based gaming firm Betonsports settling civil litigation against the company, the Antiguan Financial Services Regulatory Commission has filed an application for a restraining order against the company to prevent it from disposing of its assets without permission.

The FSRC says it wants to ensure that such assets as Betonsports still has are applied to reimbursing its customers rather than for any other purpose. Its application was due to be heard yesterday.

The US court order banned Betonsports from operating in the US. "The defendant has no legally recognizable right to operate in the United States," wrote the judge. However, the agreement permits the company to refund stakes placed by US players; originally the Justice Department had wanted to seize those funds.

Kaye McDonald, the Director of Gaming for the FSRC, observed, "While the jurisdiction of the United States government over Betonsports is questionable, by virtue of being the holder of an Interactive Gaming and Interactive Wagering license issued by the Antiguan and Barbudan authorities, . . . the company . . . has acquiesced to our international jurisdiction over the company and its assets.'

Lebrecht Hesse, the Chairman of the FSRC, said: "We believe that the United States should step aside and ensure that our regulators can enforce and oversee the application of the laws of Antigua and Barbuda to the orderly dissolution of BETonSPORTS. We are disappointed that the United States efforts to prohibit cross-border competition in gambling and betting services have led to the disruption of a once-healthy and robust service provider, but we are just as adamant that our jurisdiction be respected in the interests of consumers and others."

Betonsports and 12 individuals still face criminal charges including racketeering, mail fraud and facilitation of gambling across state and national boundaries. Trading of Betonsports stock in London was suspended on July 18th at the company's request. The company ran its US Internet business from Costa Rica and Antigua.

Founder Gary Kaplan and British CEO David Carruthers are among those indicted. Carruthers, 48, was arrested in July as he changed planes in a Dallas airport. At a hearing in August, Carruthers pleaded not guilty to the charges of fraud and racketeering in St Louis. Under the terms of a bail agreement negotiated between defense lawyers and prosecutors, Carruthers was bailed under a $1 million bond and is under house arrest in the vicinity of St Louis. An arrest warrant has been issued for Gary Kaplan. The indictments seek forfeiture of $4.5 billion from Kaplan and the other defendants.

In Geneva last week a three-man dispute resolution panel established by the World Trade Organisation heard submissions by Antigua and the US over Antigua's claim that the US has failed to implement a previous WTO ruling that the US should adjust its legislation to allow a level playing field for internet gaming for foreign companies.

"This is just another step in our ongoing efforts to ensure that the United States complies with its obligations under WTO agreements and implement the rulings and recommendations of the DSB," said Antigua and Barbuda's Minister of Finance and the Economy, Dr Errol Cort.

Dr Cort expressed shock and dismay at the passage by Congress of the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006 in September. 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.

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

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