A report arrived over the weekend that Antigua and Barbuda, the Caribbean island that has been fighting the United States position on internet gambling through the World Trade Organization which ruled in its favor, once again expressed opposition to the federal online poker legalization bill proposed by Senators Harry Reid and Jon Kyl.
This time, the island's government opines that the proposed US legislation is made to favor US companies and thereby hurt offshore online gambling operators, including Antigua's online gaming industry.
According to Antigua's high profile legal representative, Mark Mendel, this online poker legalization bill would make already strained trade relations with the United States even worse.
He assessed that “If they pass this legislation, we can go back to the World Trade Organization (WTO) and embarrass them even further,” cautioning the US that they should “Work with us before this thing becomes law and figure this out and reach a settlement. … We want to work with you, we want to have a fair and reasonable settlement, and this is the perfect time to get it done.”
It has been estimated by Antigua that it is owed $3.4 billion per year in damages for being denied access to the U.S. market for Internet gaming services, and it was authorized by the WTO to violate $21 million-worth per year in U.S. intellectual property in order to retaliate; still, both parties decided to give negotiations a shot so as to reach a fair settlement.
However, it is now claimed in the draft legislation that “The United States never intended to include Internet gaming of any kind within the scope of its commitments under the General Agreement for Trade in Services, and therefore, no World Trade Organization Member had any competitive expectation of access to the United States Internet gaming market.”
On the other side, Harold Lovell, Antigua's Minister of Finance and the Economy, expressed disagreement with this position in a statement, in which he says: “The wording of Sen. Kyl's legislation misrepresents the facts. Given that the U.S. has been immersed in a trade dispute for the last decade with Antigua and Barbuda, the evidence is there for all to see that remote gaming was always at issue. This is nothing short of legislating historical fiction.”
In a statement of her own, a spokeswoman for Senator Reid said the legislation is still being worked on, so the version discussed hereby is not the final one. “The bill that has been leaked is just a draft and is a premature version of the online poker legislation. We continue to work with all stakeholders, including states, to address concerns,” she said.
However, this does not seem to pacify Mendel, who said: “The way that they designed the bill is to get a licence, you have to be a land-based casino operator already. There's no way the Antiguans would be able to get a licence under this bill. What the bill says is that your servers and whatever else you need to physically run the business, it has to be located in the United States.”
He also pointed out another provision in the proposed bill, which would require the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative to find a settlement with Antigua within 180 days after the bill passes or the U.S. would move into arbitration with the WTO.
In addition, and in order to reinforce its campaign against the bill, Antigua has hired a public relations firm, Levick Strategic Communications, to a six-month, $240,000 contract.