Each ruling in the ongoing dispute between the United States and the twin-island nation of Antigua and Barbuda has yielded similar results, with the U.S. racing industry essentially stuck in the middle. The latest ruling, handed down on March 30, upheld previous decisions allowing for the possibility of retaliatory trade sanctions if the United States continues its unyielding stance on I-gaming.
IGN spoke with Alex Waldrop, president of the National Thoroughbred Racing Association, who expressed a clear distaste for the way the U.S. government has handled itself in what he calls "a mistake, pure and simple."
IGN: Was the WTO ruling the one you expected or hoped for?
"The unfortunate fact is that gambling should have never been included under the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS) in the first place."
- Alex Waldrop
Waldrop: The result in the WTO panel proceedings comes as no surprise. We understand that the United States has the opportunity to appeal the decision and probably will, so it is important to wait and see how the appellate proceedings come out before we draw any conclusions about how the WTO case affects U.S. gaming laws affecting Internet gaming, if at all.
IGN: Do you think the ruling bodes well for the U.S. racing industry?
Waldrop: It's a preliminary [ruling]...the proceeding is on-going. It seems to be interminable. The unfortunate fact is that gambling should have never been included under the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS) in the first place. And the only logical solution, perhaps not a practical solution, is to withdraw gaming from GATS. We're the only country in the world, apparently, that included gambling. All other countries had the foresight to check the box and remove gambling from consideration. We neglected or failed or decided for whatever reason not to exclude, and not we're left with this very difficult decision. Not only difficult for the racing industry, but actually it doesn't bode well for other interests across the country because this ruling is based upon federal law, but it could just as easily have been based on state-law claims. It's not just the racing industry that's put in an awkward position by this.
IGN: Do you think it extends beyond racing?
Waldrop: The fundamental premise of gaming law in this country is that it's controlled by state, yet when it comes to GATS we've adopted a completely contrary position and that discrimination is something we won't tolerate. It was a mistake, pure and simple, and the only logical solution is to withdraw.
Unfortunately, that's difficult to do because you can't just unilaterally withdraw from a contract. You have to negotiate that withdrawal and hopefully be done. But, certainly, that's a very high hurdle for reasons that WTO lawyers can explain, but essentially you can't just unilaterally withdraw obligations under contract.
IGN: Did you notice any difference between this ruling and the last one?
Waldrop: I haven't looked at it with any close detail. I mean I haven't analyzed it because, again, it's preliminary and it will be appealed. Keep in mind we're not a party to it, so we're just monitoring it. We're not monitoring it. We're not being consulted. We're not in any way directly engaged. But given the fact that it's preliminary, it's safe to say that we didn't scour it like we would the final, not appealable ruling.
IGN: Do you get the sense that other members of the U.S. racing industry are basically ignoring the ruling given the fact that it is not final and it will likely be appealed?
Waldrop: I think that the NTRA is following it more closely that most in the racing industry and we're certainly taking that view. Well, we're not going to ignore it, but we're waiting to see how the appellate proceedings turn out before we draw any conclusions.