Monday October 29,2012 : ANTIGUA PROTESTS ONLINE POKER BILL
Reid-Kyl legalization bill further prejudices island's internet gambling operators, says government
Antigua and Barbuda, the Caribbean island that has for so long fought the United States position on internet gambling through the World Trade Organisation has come out strongly against the federal online poker legalization bill proposed by Senators Harry Reid and Jon Kyl.
The Washington DC political publication The Hill reported over the weekend that the island government is claiming that the proposed US legalization takes specific aim at offshore online gambling operators in order to favour U.S. companies, hurting Antigua's Internet gaming industry.
Antigua's high profile legal representative, Mark Mendel, told The Hill that passage of the online poker bill would worsen already strained trade relations with the United States.
“If they pass this legalization, we can go back to the World Trade Organization (WTO) and embarrass them even further,” Mendel said in a comment targeted on the US government.
“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.”
In 2003, Antigua filed a complaint with the WTO against the United States for not allowing the Antiguans to provide Internet gaming services to U.S. citizens. Antigua charged that the U.S.A. was not abiding by its commitments under the WTO's General Agreement on Trade in Services, or GATS.
The WTO later ruled in Antigua’s favour but the trade dispute remains a source of friction between the two nations, with the islanders still pushing hard for settlement.
Antigua has estimated it is owed $3.4 billion per year in damages for being denied access to the U.S. market for Internet gaming services. The WTO has authorised Antigua to violate $21 million-worth per year in U.S. intellectual property to retaliate, but both sides have agreed to negotiate a fair settlement.
The United States says it disagrees with the WTO ruling. The Hill claims that the draft copy of the Reid-Kyl online poker bill characterises the WTO decision as “erroneous”. Another of the bill’s findings states that the United States might never allow WTO 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 the General Agreement for Trade in Services, and therefore, no World Trade Organization Member had any competitive expectation of access to the United States Internet gaming market,” the draft legalization claims.
Antigua disagrees with that conclusion. Harold Lovell, Antigua’s Minister of Finance and the Economy, said in a statement:
“The wording of Sen. Kyl's legalization misrepresents the facts. Given that the U.S. 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.”
Answering an enquiry from The Hill, a spokeswoman for Senator Reid said the legalization is still being worked on, and cautioned that the draft of the bill that has circulated in Washington isn’t the final version.
“The bill that has been leaked is just a draft and is a premature version of the online poker legalization. We continue to work with all stakeholders, including states, to address concerns,” the spokeswoman claimed.
Mendel said the online poker bill would further prejudice Antigua.
“The way that they designed the bill is to get a licence, you have to be a land-based casino operator already. There's no way the Antiguans would be able to get a licence under this bill,” Mendel said. “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.”
Reid and Kyl’s bill would legalise online poker, but ban playing other games of chance over the Internet.
Another provision in the Reid-Kyl bill would require the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative to find a settlement with Antigua within 180 days after the bill passes. Otherwise the U.S. would move into arbitration with the WTO under the provision, according to Mendel.
Antigua has hired a public relations firm, Levick Strategic Communications, to a six-month, $240,000 contract to help with its campaign against the bill, according to Justice Department records.