March 25, 2004

Antigua wins gaming case against US

Antigua and Barbuda has won a case against the United States on the right to deliver cross border Internet gambling and betting services to America.

Antigua filed a complaint against the US at the World Trade Organisation (WTO) last year saying a US ban on cross-border Internet gaming was a violation of international trade rules.

The twin-island state argued that the laws blocking US residents from using online casinos breach global fair trade rules and threaten a valuable part of the economy.

Antigua's High Commissioner to London, Sir Ronald Sanders, told BBC Caribbean Service the ruling in favour of Antigua was a major breakthrough.

"In this particular case Antigua and Barbuda had over 100 internet gaming companies that operated in our country that were delivering services into the United States and elsewhere employing over 5,000 people and bringing us close to $30 million a year."

"We lost that over the last three years and this victory we have got here demonstrates that we were right to have taken the case to the WTO, we were right to have fought it as hard as we did and victory is now ours," Mr Sanders said.

US to appeal

According to news agency reports the US intends to appeal the decision because the ruling was ‘deeply flawed’.

Richard Mills, a spokesman for the US Trade Representative's office in Washington told Reuters news agency that American commitments on services were "clearly intended to exclude gambling when the United States joined the WTO in 1995."

Although gaming laws in the United States vary from state to state, the US Department of Justice has declared that Internet gambling breaks a 1961 federal law outlawing the placing and taking of bets across state lines.

Last year the US House of Representatives took the restrictions further, voting to ban credit-card payments to Internet casinos.

The US government defended the need for controls on Internet gambling saying the moves were designed to protect children and prevent financial crimes such as money laundering.

Antigua and Barbuda argued however that its online casinos are some of the best-regulated in the world.

Last year, Mr Sanders told the BBC the islands financial regulators classify online casinos in the same bracket as banks and apply stricter rules than the US.

Antigua's online gaming industry generated $37.5m in taxes in 2000.

Under the Geneva-based WTO rules the US may not have to apply the ruling until a year or more.

WTO trade judges will take an additional 30 days to issue a final ruling, which never varies much from the interim, and then the United States can appeal.