The recent action by U.S. justice authorities against online poker operators has breathed new life into Antigua’s long-running battle to get WTO sanctions against the United States.
“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,” Mark Mendel, legal adviser to the Antigua government, told Reuters. “It’s as if Antigua would put Americans in jail for selling pineapples.”
At a closed-door, two-day meeting between Antigua government officials and online gaming operators, Prime Minister Baldwin Spencer said that Antigua has lost $18 million a year since the U.S. banned betting with foreign-based operators, reports the Antigua Observer.
“During the late ’90s and early 2000s, Antigua & Barbuda could undoubtedly be dubbed the largest gaming jurisdiction in this hemisphere,” said Spencer. “During that period, over 3,000 young men and women were employed in this sector with an approximate contribution to GDP standing at between 6 percent and 8 percent.
“In the year 2000 alone, the sector paid in excess of EC$35 million in wages and salaries,” said Spencer. “However, post-intervention of U.S. laws and WTO decision, employment in the sector today registers approximately 440 employees, I was told.”
Licensing revenue obtained by the government has fallen from $20 million in the late 1990s to less than $2 million today.
Spencer did not go into collateral losses but said costs also involved “astronomical” legal fees to proceed with the WTO case and the loss of revenue for locals who had business relationships with operators.
The pain suffered by the local economy was featured in Spencer’s presentation and in introductory remarks by Finance and Economy Minister Harold Lovell.
The approximately 50 companies that were represented at the meeting were encouraged by the organizers to suggest any method they thought might help bring about access to the betting public in the U.S.
GamblingCompliance quoted Mendel as saying, “Given the time that has been spent by the Antiguan government on sincere attempts to negotiate a reasonable settlement with the United States, and the very meager results that have come of those discussions, it might be time for Antigua to go back to the WTO and compel American compliance with the rulings that this very small country fought so hard for and deserves to see implemented.”