Letter from Antigua

The nation of Antigua looks askance at American prohibitions on Internet gaming. Actually that’s a bit of an understatement, as they have taken the US to WTO dispute resolution over the issue. As you can imagine, the country is not happy about a pending prohibition bill before Congress.

Here’s a press release I got in my inbox this morning, detailing the island nation’s protest:


The Government of Antigua and Barbuda has sent a letter (available upon request) to Rob Portman, the United States Trade Representative, in response to recent legislation introduced in the United States Congress regarding Internet gambling. In 2005, Antigua won a case against the United States in the World Trade Organization over the US prohibition on Internet gambling services offered to American consumers from Antigua, and under WTO procedures the United States was given until 3 April 2006 to bring its laws into compliance with the WTO decision.

However, the only legislation introduced into the Congress to date have
been bills sponsored by Congressmen Jim Leach (R-Iowa) and Bob Goodlatte
(R-Virginia), both of which seek to impose further restrictions on Internet gambling. In his letter of 16 February 2006 to Ambassador Portman, the Antiguan Ambassador to the WTO Dr. John W. Ashe notes that both pieces of legislation are in a number of respects directly contrary to the ruling of the WTO in the gambling dispute.

“As of today,” noted Ambassador Ashe, “with less than two months remaining on an 11 month and two week compliance period, to our knowledge no legislation has been introduced into the Congress that would seek to bring the United States into compliance with the [WTO] recommendations. Further, your government has given no indication to Antigua and Barbuda as to how the United States intends to effect such compliance. The only legislative efforts so far, the Goodlatte Bill and the Leach Bill, are baldly contrary to the rulings and recommendations of the [WTO]. We can only assume that this legislation was neither sponsored by nor enjoys the support of the USTR and the current American administration.”

Mark Mendel, lead counsel representing Antigua in the WTO case, observed that the exceptions to the Internet gambling prohibition contained in both of the bills highlight the discriminatory trade effect of the United States prohibition on the cross-border provision of gambling and betting services into the US. “By creating carve-outs for certain domestic remote gambling opportunities, including in particular wholly-intrastate remote gambling, both of these pieces of legislation fly directly in the face of the WTO ruling. The economic basis of the US restrictions simply cannot be more obvious.”

Ambassador Ashe further expressed his country’s commitment to the case, noting “Antigua and Barbuda stand prepared to ensure that our people reap the benefits of this historic decision. We will use every avenue open to us at the WTO and otherwise to see that the United States complies with the decision in a timely and comprehensive manner. As always however, we encourage the United States government to engage with Antigua and Barbuda directly to craft a workable solution to our dispute that addresses the concerns of both nations.”

It’s funny that a lottery company can get a well-placed lobbyist to scuttle a ban on Internet gaming, but a sovereign nation, armed with a favorable decision from an international trade organization, has to send open letters to the US Trade Representative in an effort to stand up for what they believe is right. Politics.

If you’re curious about the whole WTO/US trade dispute, or why the federal government is currently using a law passed in 1961 to restrict Internet gaming, check out Cutting the Wire, my book on the topic.

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