Antigua-Barbuda Declare Gaming Trade War on U.S.

As someone who has worked in the Online Gambling Industry for more than 15 years this long, drawn out dispute has proven extremely interesting to me.

Truth be told, it is shameful the way the USA has conducted itself during this dispute, hardly an example of ethical, honest, good faith dealings.

Anyway, here is the news piece…..

Dec. 29 — Like the fictitious country of Duchy of Grand Fenwick in the 1955 cold war satire ‘The Mouse That Roared,’ a tiny Caribbean nation with less than 90,000 population has declared war on America — a war it expects to win.

It isn’t a nuclear holocaust that Antigua and Barbuda want, but a trade war over the right of the twin island nation to export Internet gambling to paying customers in the United States — a right Antigua says it is entitled to under the rules of the World Trade Organization, but that the U.S. Justice Department opposes.

While some U.S. officials look at Antigua’s lawsuit with the WTO as without merit and even frivolous, Antigua’s Finance Minister Howard Lovell says his country is deadly serious about the damage the American Justice System has done to Antigua’s economy.

Lovell is seeking $3.4 billion in damages, claiming America violated an international trade agreement with the WTO that opened the door for countries like Antigua to export Internet gambling to Americans who make up more than half of the world’s Internet wagerers.

Using the services of a Texas-born attorney who presently practices law and lives in Ireland, Antigua and Barbuda are relying on a series of rulings in their favor by the WTO. The two island federation has given the case to a WTO arbitration board to determine damages.

Before the U.S. Justice Department took its unprecedented action of shutting down off-shore Internet gambling operations, more than 3,000 citizens of Antigua and Barbuda were employed in Internet gaming operations. Today that number has shrunk to around 400.

‘It is not in our interest to have a fight with the United States,’ Lovell said. ‘But we believe that as a sovereign nation, we are entitled to all the rights and protection of the WTO. My country has exhausted all other possibilities and believe it is time to pursue sanctions.’

Antigua and Barbuda have an ace in the hole the federation plans to use if the United States doesn’t cover its economic damages. It isn’t a bomb or a series of rockets, but it could be a formidable weapon.

Lovell said his country plans to turn the tables on America and seize its right to America’s intellectual properties such as copyrights, music, movies and software to compensate for the perceived damages against Antigua and Barbuda.

The WTO sided with Antigua in 2007 and awarded the federation the right to target such valuable intellectual copyrights and trademarks as compensation for its economic losses stemming from the Justice Department’s actions.

While Antigua is claiming huge losses to its economy and wants to impose a $3.4 bill on America for economic losses and punitive damages, the WTO capped the limit it would sanction at $21 million annually. America offered a trifling $500,000 per year, which Antigua and Barbuda summarily rejected.

Antigua is a former British colony. The island’s income from tourism was devastated by a series of destructive hurricanes over the past decade. That decrease coupled with the U.S. Justice Department’s action has ‘driven us over a fiscal cliff,’ said Lovell.

The Antigua-Barbuda economy was also hammered by the 2009 collapse of Stanford International Bank founded by Texas tycoon R. Allen Stanford, who was convicted fraud. The bank was once Antigua’s largest private employer.

It is the WTO’s position that America has violated the international trade laws by targeting online gambling without equal application of the law to U.S. operators who offer online betting on horses and dog races.

In 2006, the U.S. Justice department forced American banks and credit card companies to stop processing payments to online gambling businesses that operated outside America’s shores.

Lovell said Antigua and Barbuda have been closely following America’s complaints against China for pirating and selling fake products that wind up being sold to U.S. consumers. The United States has threatened to take China to the WTO to have the dispute resolved.

‘Antigua has played by the rules,’ said Lovell. ‘All we want is for America to do the same.’

Ironically, many Americans are just as upset over the U.S. Justice Department’s actions of shutting down the offshore gambling casinos and betting services as Antigua.

On Friday, April 15 of this year — it is known as Black Friday — the U.S. Department of Justice basically shut down the Internet poker industry for alleged violations of the UIGEA law. While some small sites still serve the U.S. market and allow wagering on horse and dog races, millions of Americans were prevented from playing Internet poker.

Stanley Sludikoff, who publishes Poker Player Magazine, said the Internet gambling issue is far from over.

‘The U.S. Justice Department claims that only sports betting is illegal under the Wire Act,’ Sludikoff told The Observer. ‘Yet people are still being prosecuted under other statutes.

‘All of the states seem to be waiting to see what will happen with the bill sponsored by Senators Harry Reid and Jon Kyle, which will be taken up in the next Congressional session in January 2013.

‘Too many parties want to share the potential revenue to see this industry vanish. They include major casinos, North American Indian Tribes, state lotteries, social gambling networks, countries like Antigua and Barbuda, and greedy entrepreneurs.’

Sludikoff said he believes ‘Antigua can put people back to work by operating subscription sites like the World Poker Tour, which is basically a poker tournament site.’

In actuality, playing online poker is not illegal in America except for a few states like Utah, Washington State and Missouri which have expressively outlawed it.

A growing number of states, including Delaware, New Jersey and Nevada, have already passed legislation to permit Internet gambling within their borders, but to date none have yet done so.

‘They’re waiting to see what happens with the Reid-Kyl bill,’ said a spokesman for a poker magazine.

‘There are proposed bills all over the place. One is called the Internet Gamblling Prohibition, Poker Consumer Protection and Strengthening UIGEA Act of 2012 that was introduced by Harry Reid and Jon Kyl.

‘While there is a lot of support for the bill, it also has a lot of opposition, generally from the National Governors Assn. which feels it would take away state authority and give it to the federal government.

‘We’re all eager to see this thing get settled in a way that’s fair to everybody.’

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