Poker Site Seizures Rekindles Old Dispute

Last week’s seizure of four major poker sites is still sending ripples through the online gaming industry. Since then American players have been turned away by many online casinos. On Tuesday American players started to report that several gaming sites had blocked American players. Some players received emails stating “As you may be aware, certain unfortunate circumstances have recently affected the ability of parties to process online gaming transactions in certain regions. This means that we will no longer be able to accept deposits from you. Even though our ability to accept and transfer funds has been severely impaired, we will endeavor to honor all withdrawal requests as soon as possible. Your account will remain open for the time being should you wish to play through any remaining balances.”

Many players have been left in limbo as to the fate of their accounts and it appears that player funds have been frozen by the heavy handed actions by the US government. The recent actions have rekindled an old dispute between the government of Antigua and the United States over online gaming. The Honorable Harold Lovell, the Antiguan Minister for Finance and the Economy, expressed his dismay at what he called “…the latest effort by the American authorities to shut off competition in remote gaming in violation of International law.” In a blistering statement directed at US authorities Lovell said “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. I am not aware of any other situation where a member of the World Trade Organisation has subjected persons to criminal prosecution under circumstances where the WTO has expressly ruled that to do so is in breach of an International treaty.”

Mark Mendel, Antigua’s legal counsel in the dispute said that the World Trade Association had ruled that laws criminalizing the provision of remote gaming are contrary to the obligations of the US under WTO agreements. Mendel pointed out the hypocrisy of the United States and stated “The United States, being a very heavy user of the WTO rules to its own benefit, simply cannot continue to prosecute persons for engaging in legitimate International commerce. What the United States has attempted to cloak as a moral issue is now clearly nothing but economic protectionism at its worst.” The dispute has been going on since the US passed the unpopular and ill advised UIGEA in 2006. Antigua won the dispute but the United States has ignored the ruling of the WTO.

So far the internet bingo industry has not been affected. Most bingo operators based in the UK banned American players a long time ago but there are still many internet bingo sites available to American players. Hopefully internet bingo will continue to escape the scrutiny of US regulators.