Antigua Denied in Request to Reopen WTO Complaint Against United States
The tiny island nation of Antigua and Barbuda, at one time a thriving Caribbean hub of online sportsbook, poker and casino sites, was denied this week in its attempts to reopen its ongoing World Trade Organization (WTO) trade dispute against the United States.
The WTO battle between Antigua and the United States over the US’s blocking of international access to its citizens for online gambling services has been a David-vs.-Goliath story roughly a decade in the making, and though Goliath (the US), has lost most of the WTO decisions rendered in the dispute, the US has thugged up in true Goliath style, flexing its economic might and refusing to honor those decisions in any meaningful way.
The latest episode seemed poised to unfold nearly two weeks ago, when Antigua’s Finance Minister, Harold Lovell, announced to major media outlets that his tiny country of about 90,000 residents would be pursuing the retaliatory sanctions it was entitled to as part of the existing WTO trade decision in favor of Antigua.
That decision stemmed from the processes set in motion following the United States’ passage of the 2006 Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA), at which time the US unilaterally declared that all the trade agreements it had previously agreed to with its many WTO partners, and which included online gambling services, could be summarily ignored.
The US even claimed, laughably, that such services were in violation of America’s societal standards, this while American casinos offering the same exact services proliferated by the hundreds. The case went through several rounds of appeals, with Antigua triumphing at every level.
However, the tiny island country, which had sought billions, received far less.
Antigua was awarded an annual judgment of $21 million against the United States, in the form of an allowance to sell up to that much each year in intellectual property that is currently under US copyright trademark protection. Such items included music, movies, computer software, and basically anything that was licensed for international sale by an American company.
Antigua continued to claim that the sum was a pittance compared to the real value of the economic damage being done to the island’s online company, which once employed several thousand workers in online gambling services, which has shrunk to a meager 400 or so today.
Antigua decided to not go ahead and start collecting on its judgment, which it could have done by making and selling not-quite-pirated copies of US-registered items. Antigua even forced the shutdown in July 2009 of an island-based enterprise called ZookZ, which for just a few days attempted to start collecting on that WTO judgment by selling cheap downloads of those movies and music.
Antigua clamped down quickly on ZookZ under severe pressure from the US Trade Office, probably with the explicit mention of some of the other aid the island nation has also received from the States. Since it was a private company and not the Antiguan government itself, Lovell and other Antiguan officials decided that negotiations with the USTO were the better tactic, at which time the USTO and other US officials began an extended runaround; the agency in question was staffed by officials with close ties to former Sen. Bill Frist, the power-hungry politician who foisted the UIGEA unto the US in the first place.
Finally, a couple of weeks ago, the Antiguan folks said enough. According to the AP piece, “Antigua intends to formally announce its intentions to pursue punitive action at a Dec. 17 meeting of the Geneva-based World Trade Organization. It will then announce specifics of which U.S. industries it intends to target.”
And… that didn’t happen, either. According to Caribarena.com, the WTO has seemingly said enough is enough, denying Antigua the chance to reopen the matter. It seems Antigua has waited too long, and instead of attempting to implement a solution to take direct advantage of the settlement they were previously awarded, they’re not going to be allowed to start another mess.
Antigua’s High Commissioner to the WTO, Carl Roberts, declared, “Unfortunately, we will not be requesting this authorisation today because the Secretariat, in consultation with the United States, decided that our request was untimely, despite being here in this building prior to the completion and dissemination of the notice.”
Despite the screwing over that Antigua received from the US, it’s gotten harder and harder to feel sorry for the island nation, whose demands remained exorbitant and who decided not to implement the very solution the international WTO granted them. Had they started a government-run version of something like ZookZ, Hollywood and Silicon Valley would have screamed bloody murder, and they’d have had a chance to negotiate for real.
Of course, they also would have had to clean up their own act as well, getting rid of some the bottom feeders of the gambling world who have made Antigua a refuge outside of US extradition reach. Case in point: Scott Tom, of Absolute Poker cheating infamy, who resides these days in Antigua and has even started up a new Facebook page as “Scott Philip,” despite still being a fugitive in connection with the US’s “Black Friday” charges.
Ummm, Antigua? You know that casino project on your island that Scott Tom hinted he might build? It ain’t going to happen. He’ll be keeping his funds as liquid as possible, the better to help manipulate his ongoing freedom; the last thing he’s going to do is bury his ill-gotten wealth into a casino monolith on one of your beaches.
Perhaps you could bundle the man onto a cargo plane headed west-northwest, and attempt to convince the US that you really do want to be an upstanding citizen in the international online gambling world. And perhaps then the real powers that be will start taking you seriously.