Antigua,US Gaming Feud Flares Up Again

The US has been in an ongoing dispute with the Caribbean nation of Antigua over online gambling. The long running dispute was rekindled by the recent seizure of four online poker sites by the FBI and the US Department of Justice. Antigua says that the US violated world trade laws by shutting down the four sites and seizing their domains. Antigua and Barbuda say they may take their case to the World trade Organization again. A previous ruling by the WTO was in favor of Antigua but so far the US government refuses to abide by the ruling.

Antigua and Barbuda are licensing jurisdictions for several online gambling companies and have waged a prolonged battle over US attempts to keep residents from patronizing offshore gaming sites licensed in Antigua. Antigua contends that the US actions against online gaming are illegal and protectionist because online betting is legal for state-regulated horse racing and gambling money is permitted in US casinos. Mark Mendel, the Caribbean government’s legal advisor, told reporters “I don’t think there’s another country in the world that puts people in jail for engaging in trade that’s lawful under international law. It’s as if Antigua would put Americans in jail for selling pineapples.”

U.S. prosecutors in New York seized three online poker domains and have charged the site owners with fraud and money laundering. Prosecutors are seeking $3 billion dollars from the gaming companies. US prosecutors contend that the gaming companies ‘tricked’ banks into processing gaming transactions for American citizens. Prosecutors allowed two of the sites to open so players could retrieve their funds in their accounts and also allowed the sites to operate outside of the US. Harold Lovell, Antigua’s finance minister, issued a statement which read “I am concerned that at this point in time United States authorities continue to prosecute non-domestic suppliers of remote gaming services in clear contravention of international law.”

So far internet bingo sites have remained untouched. Although internet bingo is popular in the United States it accounts for a very small percentage of gaming sites targeting the US gaming market. In addition bingo is considered a soft form of gambling and is considered socially acceptable because of the game’s long association with churches and charities. Internet bingo operators in the UK and Europe are following the developments in the US closely. Most UK and European internet bingo sites banned American players shortly after the passage of anti online gambling legislation in 2006. Currently many states are considering the possibility of offering online gambling to residents leading many to believe that US legalization of online gaming is inevitable.