Sunday November 4, 2012 : PROPOSED NEW U.S. POKER LAW TRIES TO REWRITE HISTORY, SAY ANTIGUANS
Reid-Kyl bill re-visits a sensitive World Trade Organisation dispute already won by the islanders
Clauses in the Reid-Kyl bill seeking to federally legalise online poker whilst banning other forms of online gambling exacerbate the tension between Antigua and the United States and attempt to re-write history, say Antigua government officials.
The Antiguans are talking about sections of the bill which not only perpetuate the damage done to the Caribbean island's online gambling industry in contravention of World Trade Organisation agreements, but seek to portray the WTO dispute panel rulings on the issue as ‘erroneous' and re-start the dispute process.
More formally titled the Internet Gambling Prohibition, Poker Consumer Protection, and Strengthening UIGEA Act of 2012, the Reid-Kyl proposals will lock the island nation out of the industry, says Antigua’s lawyer in the gaming dispute, Mark Mendel.
“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 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.”
The bill further requires the US Trade Representative to resolve the gaming dispute with Antigua no later than 180 days after the adoption of the bill.
If the negotiations do not succeed, the US is obligated to move to arbitration at the World Trade Organisation (WTO) under the General Agreement for Trade in Services (GATS) Article XXI to resolve the dispute, which has already been extensively argued before a WTO panel with a finding largely in favour of the islanders.
Antigua's Minister of Finance, Harold Lovell, as says that he is encouraged to have a time frame but would prefer if a settlement was made prior to the Reid-Kyl legalization being adopted.
“Good faith negotiation requires much more adherence to international law than this legalization is offering. Because a proper, comprehensive settlement will likely involve a legislative component,” Lovell said.
“It would seem to us that a settlement prior to adoption of legalization, which then incorporated the terms of the settlement, would be the wiser and more appropriate course of action.”
The Antiguans also note that the contentious bill argues that the United States was never in violation of international trade law when an early act prevented Antiguan-based gaming companies from providing gaming services to US citizens.
But the Antiguans point out that in 2007 the WTO ruled that the US was in violation of international treaties by not granting full market access to gaming operators in Antigua.
Despite this, the bill claims that the WTO ruling was ‘erroneous' and: “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.”
Minister Lovell said that the wording of the Reid-Kyl legalization misrepresents the facts.
“Given that the US 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,” he said.
A spokeswoman for Senator Reid said last month that the legalization is still being worked on, and cautioned that the draft of the bill is not finalised