Antigua accuses US over WTO on gambling restriction case

Last year the WTO dispute settlement body (DSB) ruled that while the US was entitled to restrict internet gambling, the rules were not being applied fairly. The case arose from complaints from internet gaming companies, several of which are based in Antigua, that US laws unfairly discriminated against foreign companies by prohibiting cross-border betting.

The deadline for the US to comply with the ruling is April 3, but Antigua’s government has accused Rob Portman, US trade representative (USTR), of making no effort to bring American laws into line. John Ashe, Antigua’s WTO ambassador said in a letter sent to Portman last week: “The apparent lack of movement by the United States to comply with the rulings and recommendations of the DSB lead our government to be extremely concerned with the intentions of the United States.”

Antigua and Barbuda, which has a population of about 80,000, is one of the smallest members of the WTO and has an economy 0.007 per cent the size of the US. If the WTO finds that the US has not complied with the ruling, it can permit Antigua to impose reciprocal trade sanctions, but these would be almost entirely symbolic for such a small trading partner.

Mark Mendel, Antigua’s lead attorney in the case, said he suspected that the US was exploiting that weakness. “Their overall strategy in this case has been to do nothing,” he said.

Christin Baker, a spokeswoman for Portman, said that the deadline for compliance had not yet arrived and that only one of Antigua’s many complaints had been upheld by the WTO panel. She said. “We are in active discussions within the executive branch, with Congress and also with the private sector to determine the best way to move forward.”

The case has aroused anger among some US legislators, who say that gambling on the internet is a particularly pernicious form of betting, since it brings a potentially addictive and damaging pastime into American homes. The US invoked a rarely used part of the WTO agreement on services to argue that the restrictions protected “public morals”.

Two bills introduced into Congress by Republican congressmen Jim Leach from Iowa and Robert Goodlatte from Virginia would further restrict internet gambling without complying with the WTO’s ruling, Antigua said.