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Antigua Dukes It Out With Heavyweight U.S.
by Karl Yu

Remember Mike Tyson’s Punch Out for the Nintendo Entertainment System? It was a video game back in the late 80’s that saw your character, aptly named Little Mac, earn his stripes by making his way up the boxing circuit for an inevitable title bout with Mike Tyson, back when Iron Mike was still at the top of his game.

After countless hours, thrown controllers, temper tantrums and F bombs you would eventually beat Tyson and become world champion.

The tiny island nation of Antigua and Barbuda isn’t really champion of the world, or into boxing for that matter, but they are going toe-to-toe with a heavyweight and by all accounts, seem to be winning despite seemingly overwhelming odds.

Everyone who logs onto this site, or is a casual online gambler for that matter, knows all about the United States’ stance on internet gambling. They think it is “dangerous,” they think it is illegal and they don’t like or want online companies—on or off of American soil—catering to the U.S. They have passed and used legislation such as the Federal Wire Act and the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act to curb various forms of gambling whether it is sports betting or online poker.
They have even gone so far as to arrest individuals who have stirred their spoon in the online gambling stew and have ventured onto American soil—hello Peter Dicks, David Carruthers, John Lefebvre and Stephen Lawrence.

Maybe it’s to deter online gambling, maybe the U.S. truly believes gambling is “evil,” but America’s overzealous attack on the business could come back to bite them square on their butts.

The World Trade Organization (WTO) is a global international organization that specializes in legal trade issues amongst nations around the world. Their objective is rather simple: “To help trade flow smoothly, freely, fairly and predictably.”

The WTO’s collective is comprised of 150 member nations that make up 97 percent of trading in the world and Antigua, Barbuda and the U.S. belong amongst the WTO’s ranks.

One of the WTO’s agreements deals with international trade involving services. The General Agreement on Trades and Services (GATS) as the WTO says, “was developed in response to the huge growth of the services economy over the past 30 years and the greater potential for trading services brought about by the communications revolution,” with the revolution in question being the one brought on by the advent of the World Wide Web.

Antigua and Barbuda grant licenses for online gambling companies and the business has thrived on the islands so much so, that it is every bit important to the economy—some say even more so—as their tourism industry.

But with the States’ policies, cracking the American market—which Antigua should have access to as a fellow WTO member—has been near impossible to do without some form of harassment.

In 2003, Antigua and Barbuda filed a complaint against the United States citing a violation of the GATS. It was their claim that the U.S. was restricting the growth of the online gaming services they provided, while making conditions favorable for their remote horse racing gambling services, which some thought hypocritical.

After going through all the red tape, which consisted of a panel meeting among other things, Antigua and Barbuda got a very favorable ruling from the WTO in November of 2004. The WTO ruled that America did indeed give preferential treatment and were violating the GATS.

The U.S. disagreed with the ruling and filed an appeal. During the appeals process the WTO settlement body came to some interesting conclusions:

1) Antigua and Barbuda’s assertion that state laws violated the GATS was not discussed thoroughly enough during the previous proceedings to be considered by the panel.

2) The Wire Act and similar legislation were necessary to ensure protection of public health and morals of Americans.

However they also ruled that America was indeed being preferential because their laws on remote gambling for horse racing weren’t being applied to foreign and American companies equally, meaning they were discriminating. Bottom line, the U.S. lost the appeal.

The settlement body recommended that the U.S. bring their laws up to code by April 3 of last year, but not only did the Americans let the deadline pass without action, they introduced the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act as well, making their laws even more discriminatory.

Feeling like their online gambling industry was being suffocated yet again and wanting some closure, Antigua and Barbuda issued an Article 21.5 (review to see if compliance requirements have been met) to help end the dispute.

The World Trade Organization ruled on January 27, 2007 and once again the ruling was favorable to Antigua and Barbuda. The U.S. will reportedly decide on whether they will appeal when the final panel decision is made in March 2007.

The States’ passage of the UIGEA caught the attention of people not only in Antigua and Barbuda but in the European Union as well. In fact the EU’s Internal Market Commissioner Charlie McCreevy recently expressed his reservations calling the legislation “restrictive” and “protectionist” and that while it wasn’t a priority high on their list, the EU might eventually bring the case before the WTO as well.

That in turn has caught the attention of Antigua and Barbuda’s WTO attorney who wants to meet with McCreevy. “We are pursuing [the EU] angle because what he said ties in nicely with what we’re saying,” said Mark Mendel.

Even though an EU case against the U.S. before the WTO would not happen in the immediate future, a meeting would be of benefit.

“What I do think they can do is add support to our case and help encourage us to get the right results, so I think they can be very helpful. They may be able to provide us with some support at the governmental level that could be beneficial to us,” explained Mendel.

Antigua and Barbuda has gone the distance with the United States in the online gambling dispute, but will this lightweight, heavyweight bout turn into a 2-on-1 Battle Royale?

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