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Internet Gaming Company Suspends Shares

by Amanda Banks,, London

12 October 2006

Antigua-based Internet gambling company World Gaming Plc, whose shares fell almost 90% last week, announced a suspension of trading on London's AIM earlier this week.

The company made the following announcement:

'Following the announcement released by the Company on Tuesday 3 October relating to developments in United States legislation, the Directors of World Gaming announce that, following discussions with all of key parties concerned and having taken legal advice, they have requested the trading of the Company's shares be suspended with immediate effect due to a fundamental uncertainty over its ability to continue trading.'

After the US Congress passed the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006 last week, effectively closing down inter-state and international betting by US citizens, the company, which had been in talks with Sportingbet PLC about being taken over, said it might be in technical default of its loan conditions.

Shares in British online gambling companies, including PartyGaming PLC and Sportingbet, dived after Congress unexpectedly tacked the legislation onto another bill, sending both for President Bush to sign. While expanding domestic opportunities for legal gaming, the legislation prevents international and inter-state online gaming by making it illegal for banks and credit card firms to make payments to such internet operations.

Antigua and Barbuda's Minister of Finance, Dr Errol Cort, who had just returned from a visit to the US to persuade officials to accept the WTO's anti-US ruling on Internet gambling, expressed shock and dismay at the passage of the legislation.

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."

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.

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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