Gaming sector ponders worrying future

20 April 2006

Antigua Sun
Thursday April 20 2006

Gaming companies in Antigua & Barbuda are carefully monitoring the progress of US legislation which may make critical financial transactions with US-based clients illegal, effectively cutting off income to the industry.

Nearly three weeks have passed since the US failed to meet the deadline set by the World Trade Organisation’s Dispute Settlement Body (DSB) in relation to Antigua & Barbuda’s gaming case. Thus far there have been statements of outrage from Minister of Finance and the Economy Dr. Errol Cort and Ambassador to the World Trade Organisation (WTO) Dr. John Ashe and a statement of solidarity from Caricom.

What there has been little evidence of are signs of distress or changes in the operations of the local gaming industry.

This is not surprising, former Director of Gaming Ron Maginley said. He points out that while the issue decided on by the WTO is important to the development of Antigua’s gaming industry, the more pressing issue for local gaming companies is the possibility of legislation which could potentially make credit card transactions between offshore gaming companies and US residents illegal. Credit cards are currently used as a convenient payment method by clients of gaming companies.

“What would be a problem is where they make it a federal offence because then you would have US financial institutions aiding and abetting individuals in committing a crime,” he said. “In such an instance, I think we would see many US financial institutions that would just start to impose measures that truly seek to deny the companies access to US financial services. This is where the danger really comes from.”

Maginley referenced two bills for prohibition legislation which have gone before Congress this year, without appropriate moves from the US government to prevent their passage.

“There have been no steps by the Department of Trade and Commerce or by the White House, ensuring that such measures are not tabled because the WTO has made a ruling that the imposition of such measures would be contrary to its GATS agreement (the General Agreement on Trade in Services),” he said.

This pending legislation has also been of concern to the government. Last month, as the WTO deadline approached, Ambassador Ashe told the Dispute Resolution Body that he was troubled by two bills, “Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2005” and the “Internet Gambling Prohibition Act”, which were “about as directly contrary to the recommendations and rulings of the DSB as could possibly be imagined.

“Not only do these bills do nothing to provide Antiguan operators with any access whatsoever to the vast American gambling market, but in fact each would further entrench the anti-GATS nature of United States gambling law….”

This concern was echoed by Dr. Cort who noted earlier this month that the laws “would, in fact, further entrench the discriminatory nature of the United States’ approach to cross-border gambling and betting services.”