The respected online gambling information portal Major Wager.com published a must-read interview with Antigua's legal adviser this week, updating and covering the many interesting aspects of the Antigua vs. the United States disputes in the halls of the World Trade Organisation.
Hartley Henderson of Major Wager conducted the interview with Mark Mendel, who has proved more than a match as a litigator against the best that the US government has been able to pit against him, repeatedly winning the different legal jousts centred on US bans on Internet gambling.
Mendel notes that the islanders are still negotiating with the US Trade Representative and will continue to do so until it feels it has exhausted all options.
And he suggests that a compromise which opens some online gambling markets in the US, while not granting full access, may be a possible solution. "The case remains suspended while Antigua and the United States pursue settlement talks," Mendel told Henderson. "Antigua still retains its ability to contest the withdrawal of the American commitment to the provisions of cross-border gambling and betting services, and it still has the right to suspend United States intellectual property rights. However, the Antiguan government has decided to exhaust its settlement options prior to taking any further WTO action.
"What would satisfy Antigua is a veritable moveable feast . . . or perhaps an algebraic equation . . . it all depends on what is on offer, but at the end of the day it has to be reasonable under all of the circumstances. Contrary to public rumour, Antigua has never insisted on full market access. A compromise usually involves compromise by everyone, and I think Antigua understands that."
Mendel also touches on the expansion in online gambling in the USA by sectors such as horseracing, taking advantage of the notorious "carve-outs" given to it by US legislators. Mendel believes that, given the expansion and with almost certainly more to come, new claims before the World Trade Organisation could result in larger settlements.
"It has only gotten clearer that the United States does not prohibit remote gambling, per se, and that it has erected trade barriers against other countries to protect its domestic markets. The UIGEA would never pass a review at the WTO," he said.
The expansion of online gambling will extend to American domestic casino operators at some future stage, Mendel believes and he hopes that this further inequity will strengthen the Antiguan case and give the islanders at least limited access to the expanded market.
Asked about the impact of UIGEA regulations on the disruption of financial transactions with online gambling companies, Mendel observes: "The heavy hand of the United States government is basically being applied to United States banks to get them to violate International law with respect to Antiguan banks. I think Antigua has an excellent WTO case against the United States for how it has coerced its domestic banks to avoid doing business with Antigua – particularly as it all relates to remote gaming. I think that maybe diplomatic initiatives will have to be undertaken by the Antiguan government to the new administration to see if some of this terrible economic warfare can be ended."
In tune with most observers troubled by the protectionist and inequitable US moves when it comes to online gambling, Mendel hopes that the new Obama Administration will restore balance and fairness to US policies.
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