Antigua and the USA Are Discussing a Resolution in Their 12-Year Dispute over Online Gambling

Antigua and the United States finally are making progress on their long dispute over the online gambling industry. The two countries have been at odds for 12 years, since Antigua first took the US to the World Trade Organization’s international court to seek redress.

While no deals are in the making at present, sources in the Antiguan government say they are optimistic that a resolution to the dispute could happen in the near future. While the issue is perceived as minor to the United States, it is considered of vital interest to Antigua, which relies on offshore investments for much of its government revenue.

Fernandez Met with John Melle

In late July, Charles “Max” Fernandez, who serves as Antigua’s Minister of International Trade and Foreign Affairs, traveled to Washington D.C. to discuss with US officials about ending the dispute.

Fernandez met with the Assistant U.S. Trade Representative (USRS) for the Western Hemisphere, John Melle. After the meeting ended, the tow parties issued a joint statement which discussed their positive progress.

The joint statement said, Fernzandez and Melle had a discussion which was “productive and useful for the exploration of various elements that could ultimately bring closure to the matter.

After the meeting, the two countries agreed to continue the discussions “at an early date with a view to reaching a final settlement…as expeditiously as possible.

History of the 12-Year Dispute

For those unfamiliar with the dispute, the tiny Caribbean nation of Antigua & Barbuda took the United States before the WTO world court in 2003. Antigua complained that the US would not allow Antigua-based online gambling companies to operate in the United States, which was a violation of international law.

Under terms of a 1998 treaty, the US agreed to allow foreign-based companies to operate inside the United States, if US companies were allowed to ply the same trade. American lawyers argued that online gambling was banned in the United States (in 2003), while Antigua’s lawyers pointed to regulated and legal gambling like off-track bets on horse racing to show the US was being discriminatory, essentially engaging in protectionism when the country had signed a treaty involving (and was enjoying the benefits of) free trade.

WTO Court Ruling

The WTO court ruled on behalf of Antigua in 2003, then later upheld the ruling after the US filed appeals. The U.S. government refused to comply with the ruling, simply applying the stance that “might makes right” and Antigua or the WTO could not enforce the ruling.

Many believed that stance was a product of George W. Bush’s jingoistic foreign policy attitude, yet the same policy continued well into the administration of Barack Obama. Then the WTO authorized Antigua to pursue damages amounting to $21 million in penalties each year.

Over $200 Million in Penalties

Given that the original ruling was 12 years ago, the penalties now amount to over $200 million. The WTO said Antigua could pursue damages by selling the intellectual property of American music and movie studios, thus collecting penalties through the sell of Taylor Swift downloads and Marvel Avengers DVDs and blu-ray disks (to cite examples).

Antigua has decided against pursuing that course, saying they did not want to harm American artists and entertainers for the sake of getting justice with the U.S. government. That non-aggressive attitude seems to be yielding results finally, as the American federal government finally seems to be ready to discuss the lost revenues.

About Antigua & Barbuda

Antigua & Barbuda is a former colony of the British Empire, but is a tiny outpost in the Caribbean Sea. The country’s leaders complain that licensing and hosting online casinos, poker rooms, and sportsbooks are a key part of the local economy, so the US actions have done the country and its people significant damage.

Why the US Cares

United States gaming officials see offshore companies located on Caribbean islands like Antigua as preying on US citizens, whom they convince to partake in an industry considered illegal in America. Thus, officials of the Bush and Obama administrations have been willing to play hardball with the smaller country.

Readers thinking the United States would play along with a WTO ruling should understand that many Americans are ambivalent (or even hostile) to US participation in organizations like the World Trade Organization and the United Nations. While most Americans see the WTO and the UN as pillars of the international community and many foreigners see them as instruments of US policy, some Americans view such organizations as institutions trying to chip away at US sovereignty. These people see globalism in much the same light.

Though they are a minority, they are a vocal and passionate minority. Many politicians and officials do not want to hear charges they have “betrayed” America by going along with a foreign court’s ruling, when it comes to the enforcement of US laws.

About Cliff Spiller

Cliff Spiller has been an online writer for 14 years. He worked for Small World Marketing for a decade, where he covered topics like gaming, sports, movies, and how-to guides. Since 2014, he has blogged about US and international gambling news on BestOnlineCasinos.com, USPokerSites.com, and LegalUSPokerSites.com

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