Antigua and Barbuda is making progress on its negotiations with U.S. representatives to the World Trade Organization on the subject of the U.S. government's hostile stance toward online gambling.
Sir Ronald Sanders, Antigua and Barbuda's chief negotiator at the WTO, told Interactive Gaming News today that he has had an exchange of correspondence with the U.S. WTO delegation and will meet formally with U.S. representatives on the 29th or 30th of this month. He said the U.S. representatives have so far been responsive to Antigua and Barbuda's desire for negotiation.
"There's willingness to talk about it."
- Sir Ronald Sanders
World Trade Organization
"There's willingness to talk about it," Sanders said. "The best way I can describe it is as those early encounters when boy meets girl. You size each other up. And there's no reluctance at all."
The Antigua and Barbuda government announced in early March that it was seeking negotiations within the WTO with the United States about Internet gambling. The islands' prime minister, Lester Bird, said that U.S. actions to prohibit online gambling, including bills being considered in the federal legislature and the actions on the part of U.S. financial institutions to block their contact with I-gaming money, have cost the islands about $30 million.
Ron Maginley, Antigua and Barbuda's director of offshore gaming, said that if the islands can't negotiate an amenable solution with the United States, Antigua and Barbuda will seek a legal judgment in the WTO tribunal.
"Our prime minister has come out and said this is a matter that needs to be pursued because it's within our economic interest, and we do believe that we have a right and a responsibility to defend companies which are licensed with us," Maginley said. "The government of Antigua is fully prepared to support the industry through challenges within the WTO and through representations directly with the government of the United States on this issue."
In a request for consultation submitted to the WTO by Antigua and Barbuda, the islands state that U.S. actions to prohibit the online gambling industry may constitute a violation of the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS) because measures taken by government authorities in the United States have affected the cross-border supply of online gaming services between the two counties. Sanders said he would like the see the United States end such violations.
"The outcome that we would like to see is that the United States will recognize that the manner in which they've been handling this thing is inconsistent with the World Trade Organization rules and commitments which they themselves have made under World Trade Organization rules and will no longer try to implement laws which they are passing in contravention of those rules," Sanders said.
"The government of Antigua is fully prepared to support the industry through challenges within the WTO and through representations directly with the government of the United States on this issue."
- Ron Maginley
Antigua Directorate of Offshore Gaming
Maginley said he would like the United States to adopt a more reasonable approach to online gambling, especially online gambling that is regulated in jurisdictions that have anti-money laundering rules in place, which Antigua does. He said it is unfair for the United States to prevent Antigua's gambling industry from flourishing when it allows the U.S. land-based gambling industry to grow and profit.
"Antigua's challenge is founded on a very simple premise, and that premise is this: It is intrinsically unfair in terms of trade for the United States to put in place legislation that bans financial institutions from handling proceeds of our Internet gambling industry while at the same it continues to promote and encourage gambling within the United States," he said.
An especially troubling approach to I-gaming in the United States, Maginley said, is encapsulated in HR 21, the bill put forth by Rep. James Leach, R-Iowa. Maginley said the bill, which seeks to cut off I-gaming in the U.S. by preventing financial instruments from being used as payment for I-gaming services, also includes possible sanctions against offshore jurisdictions that conduct Internet gambling. If such sanctions ever come to pass, Maginley said, it could have a dire effect on Antigua's entire economy because it would prevent Antiguan banks from doing business with the United States.
Antigua and Barbuda recently received praise from the Caribbean Financial Action Task Force (CFATF) for its placement of anti-money laundering rules. Maginley said an investigation of the Directorate of Offshore Gaming in Antigua was included to make sure the organization was up to anti-money laundering compliancy standards.