Antigua government makes next move in gaming case
ST JOHN’S, Antigua, Thursday August 2, 2012 - The Antigua and Barbuda government has approached the Director General of the World Trade Organization (WTO), Pascal Lamy, in an attempt to achieve a compromise with the United States on fair compensation for damage caused to the Antigua and Barbuda gambling sector as a result of the US Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA) of 2006.
According to the Antiguan government, its request was met with a cautious response from Lamy, who indicated that the United States would have to agree to the process before the mediation effort could begin. Lamy said he was awaiting a substantive response from the United States on the matter.
In a landmark decision in 2004, the WTO agreed that United States laws, including the UIGEA of 2006, criminalizing remote gambling services offered to American consumers were in violation of US international treaty obligations. However, to date, the government of Antigua and Barbuda has said that "it has been unable, despite sustained efforts, to either get the United States to comply with the WTO ruling or negotiate any reasonable compromise to settle the dispute".
The government's call for support from Lamy came after meetings in June during which Antigua sought to clarify certain issues relating to the mediation process.
The Antiguan delegation was led by Ambassador Colin Murdoch, the permanent secretary in Antigua and Barbuda's Department of Trade, Industry and Commerce, who reported that he had came away from meetings with Lamy with the view that the office of the WTO Director-General was engaged in a genuine effort to help resolve the difficult case.
"Lamy appeared keen to preserve the legitimacy of the WTO dispute settlement system and to have the WTO play a positive role in the outcome," Murdoch said. "It remains to be seen whether the US will agree that an impartial voice in the room, not beholden to either side, can bring value-added to the process."
The Antiguan government has also reportedly assembled a team under the leadership of Minister of Finance and the Economy Harold Lovell, to handle the case and to see it through to its conclusion.
The team includes veteran lawyer Mark Mendel, who has handled the legal aspects of the case since its inception, as well as Ambassador Murdoch; the Director of Offshore Gaming, Kaye McDonald; as well as consultants with expertise in international trade.
Due to the structure of the Antiguan economy, its ability to impose sanctions upon the United States has been limited, as enforcement actions historically permitted in such cases are limited to trade sanctions. However, due to the inferior size of bilateral trade between Antigua and the US in comparison to lost gambling sector revenues, it is said that any such action would fail to compensate the nation in a meaningful way. In 2006, it was estimated that Antigua held a 25% market share in the American market.
In addition, despite the 2004 ruling, the UIGEA was used by US prosecutors on April 15, 2011, in its legal action against three offshore gambling operators, including two industry leaders at the time, Pokerstars and Full Tilt Poker, and another company Absolute Poker, based in Antigua, for providing gambling services to the US market.
The government said it had not ruled out the possibility that the matter might be resolved on a bilateral basis with the United States, without the process needing WTO mediation, and confirmed further meetings with the United States Trade Representative in Washington had been scheduled for this month.
It is anticipated that further discussions between Antigua and Barbuda and the Office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR) in Washington DC will take place in the coming weeks.