06 February 2007

Antigua Sun
Tuesday February 06 2007

The position of a senior European Union official that America’s Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act is “protectionist” has sparked the attention of Antigua & Barbuda gaming officials.

EU Internal Market Commissioner Charlie McCreevy recently expressed concern over what he called a “restrictive practice” by the US in relation to the Internet gambling issue and said the matter or the legislation passed by the US last year might be taken before the World Trade Organisation (WTO).

Antigua & Barbuda’s WTO Attorney Mark Mendel said he would be seeking to meet with McCreevy in the near future, to explore how this country’s trade dispute with the US could benefit from expanded EU support.

“We are pursuing that angle because what he said ties in nicely with what we’re saying,” Mendel said.

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McCreevy has reportedly indicated he would pursue the legislative issue with his US counterparts when he visits America in March, but he has also made it clear that a WTO battle is not at the top of the EU’s agenda.

Mendel said he considered it unlikely that the EU would bring its own case in the short term, since its member states have not been able to come to terms with the issue of online gaming.

“What I do think they can do is add support to our case and help encourage us to get the right results, so I think they can be very helpful. They may be able to provide us with some support at the governmental level that could be beneficial to us,” Mendel said.

At the same time, the attorney said that Antigua & Barbuda has to be cautious that its concerns and its fight were not overshadowed by the interests of wealthier nations.

“We always have to be considerate of bigger countries following on our heels and wiping out the value that we’ve put in to this,” he told the Antigua Sun. He said a real risk is that the US decides to continue its restrictive focus and succeeds in wiping out the Antiguan industry, then turns around and allows all of the Las Vegas companies to offer the same services Antigua-based operators offer now.

Meanwhile, Antigua & Barbuda’s gaming officials have continued to be tight-lipped on the results of the WTO’s recently completed review of US legislation in the trade dispute between Antigua & Barbuda and the US.

While Mendel and Director of Gaming Kaye McDonald have said they would not breach a confidentiality restriction imposed by the WTO, Gretchen Hamel, a spokesperson for the office of the US Trade Representative has confirmed that the WTO panel did not agree that the United States had taken the necessary steps to comply with the earlier WTO ruling in Antigua & Barbuda’s favour.

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