The US enforcement regime has been urged by two US legislators to halt its pursuit of European online gambling companies active in the US market prior to the promulgation of the 2006 Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act.
Florida Rep. Robert Wexler and Rep. Steve Cohen, a Tennessee Democrat, this week warned U.S. Attorney General Michael Mukasey in separate letters that continued operations against the companies could lead to a potentially damaging trade dispute between the United States and the European Union at the World Trade Organisation, reports the Reuters news agency.
Given the several controversial Internet gambling issues in which the US is in dispute with other nations, their assessment is credible.
"In all likelihood, this [pursuit of European companies] issue will escalate and I understand could result in WTO action focused specifically on how the U.S. government enforces its laws," wrote Representative Wexler. "I cannot see how that can be in the interests of this country."
The warnings come on the heels of a postponement of meetings between the US Trade Representative and a delegation from the European Union following complaints by the Remote Gambling Association regarding the discriminatory manner in which US law was being enforced.
Reuters points out that European Internet gambling companies and investors lost billions of Euros in declining markets after Congress made it illegal for banks and credit card companies to make payments to online gambling sites. Many publicly traded European companies, such as PartyGaming, Sportingbet and 888.com, withdrew from the United States after Congress passed the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act in 2006, but remain under the threat of criminal prosecution for pre-UIGEA activities.
This has prompted the European Commission to launch an investigation in March this year into whether Washington was singling out EU companies for enforcement actions, while allowing U.S. online firms to operate freely.
Representative Cohen, in his letter to Mukasey, pointed out that the Justice Department has yet to give sound reasons for its investigation of "foreign operators who respected congressional intent in 2006 and withdrew from the market, while U.S. companies continue to operate [online] uninterrupted."
In June this year EU Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson urged the Bush administration to "freeze" any Justice Department action until the EU had completed its probe into the discrimination issue. Questionnaires were sent to various US government agencies, which did not respond. One exception was the USTR, who somewhat peremptorily denied the EU allegations.