Antigua protests US online poker bill
The Caribbean nation of Antigua and Barbuda is protesting against proposed legislation in the United States that would see some forms of online poker and off-track horserace wagering legalised.
According to a report from The Hill newspaper, the tiny island country feels that the planned Internet Gambling Prohibition, Poker Consumer Protection and Strengthening UIGEA Act of 2012 legislation, which was drafted by Senators Harry Reid and Jon Kyl, mischaracterises the long-running trade dispute between the two nations and would hurt its domestic iGaming industry by favouring companies based in the United States.
“If they pass this legislation, we can go back to the [World Trade Organization (WTO)] and embarrass them even further,” said Mark Mendel, a legal advisor to Antigua.
“Work with us before this thing becomes law and figure this out and reach a settlement. We want to work with you. We want to have a fair and reasonable settlement and this is the perfect time to get it done.”
Antigua filed a complaint with the WTO against the United States in 2003 for violations of its commitments under the General Agreement on Trade and Services (GATS) in not allowing it to provide online gaming services to players based in America. The international organisation later ruled in the Caribbean nation’s favour but the dispute lingers with Antigua claiming that it is owed $3.4 billion per year in damages for being denied access to the US iGaming market. In retaliation, the WTO authorised Antigua to violate $21 million per year in intellectual property although both sides have agreed to seek a fair settlement.
A recently released draft of the proposed legislation from Senators Reid and Kyl called the earlier WTO decision ‘erroneous’ and states that the United States might never allow members to provide online gambling services.
“The United States never intended to include Internet gaming of any kind within the scope of its commitments under GATS and, therefore, no WTO member had any competitive expectation of access to the United States Internet gaming market,” the draft legislation reads.
Mendel said that the planned online poker bill would further squeeze Antigua out of the American iGaming market.
“The way that they designed the bill is to get a license, you have to be a land-based casino operator already,” said Mendel.
“There's no way the Antiguans would able to get a license under this bill. What the bill says is that your servers and whatever else you need to physically run the business, it has to be located in the United States.”
Antigua entered the online gaming industry in the 1990s with Mendel declaring that the nation wants to diversify its economy so that it is not dependent upon tourism.
“The wording of Senator Kyl's legislation misrepresents the facts,” said Harold Lovell, Finance and Economy Minister for Antigua.
“Given that the United States has been immersed in a trade dispute for the last decade with Antigua and Barbuda, the evidence is there for all to see that remote gaming was always at issue. This is nothing short of legislating historical fiction.”