Antigua, Barbuda, and the World Trade Organization

How much do you know about Antigua and Barbuda? How about the World Trade Organization? If you follow Internet gambling and poker, especially in terms of legal situations, then you’ve probably at least heard these names. The purpose of this post is to clarify who they are and why they’re important to poker laws.

Antigua and Barbuda

Antigua is an island in the West Indies. So is Barbuda. The two islands give their name to the country Antigua and Barbuda, which is made up of several islands. It’s also one of the smallest countries in the world. The population of the entire country of Antigua and Barbuda is only 81,000 people or so. I’ve lived in cities in the United States with smaller populations than that, and you probably have too.

Tourism is the #1 driver of revenue in the country, but the #2 source of revenue in the country, at least until recently, was online gambling, including online poker.

The World Trade Organization

The World Trade Organization is in charge of international trade. Not all countries participate in the WTO, but those that do are bound by treaty to allow the organization to resolve disputes related to fair trade between countries. The United States is a member of the World Trade Organization, and so is Antigua and Barbuda.

What Does All This Have to Do with Online Poker Law?

In 2004, the United States Department of Justice sent warning letters to companies in the United States who were accepting money for advertising online poker and Internet gambling advertising. These were large companies like Google and Yahoo who received these letters. The letters implied that the United States government would take action against these companies for “aiding and abetting” violations of the Wire Act. In response, these companies began to refuse to accept advertising from those companies.

Wait a minute, though? I thought the Wire Act only applied to sports betting?

That seems to be the conventional legal thinking, and recently, the Department of Justice clarified its position on the matter. Of course, by then, most large advertising services on the Internet had responded to the fear, uncertainty, and disinformation campaign run by the U.S. government.

Antigua and Barbuda, though, took action. The country filed a formal complaint against the United States with the World Trade Organization, claiming that this action violated the WTO’s rules about fair trade of services. The United States claimed that enforcement of their gambling laws were necessary for the health and well-being of its country’s citizens.

The World Trade Organization ruled in favor of Antigua and Barbuda. This was a true David versus Goliath type win, except for one thing.

The United States just ignored the ruling.

This shouldn’t surprise anyone who follows politics and current events. George W. Bush was President at the time, and he demonstrated his lack of regard for international law multiple times by invading sovereign nations without U.N. approval and by making torture of other country’s citizens a standard policy. (His administration even coined a phrase to make it sound like less of a crime: “enhanced interrogation techniques.”)

Anyone thinking that a ruling from a trade organization would have any bearing on the decisions made in the United States was optimistic to a fault.

Antigua and Barbuda complained again to the WTO after “Black Friday” in April, 2011. Their claims, again, are that these types of actions by the United States government are protectionist. Gambling in casinos in the United States is legal. By not allowing other countries to compete in that space, the U.S. is interfering with the rules of free trade they agreed to when they joined the World Trade Organization.

Antigua has said that it’s losing $3.4 billion annually because of the United States’ effort to restrict free trade in this manner. Whether the United States will pay more attention to the tiny Caribbean nation or the World Trade Organization now that a more enlightened executive is in charge remains to be seen.

I wouldn’t bet on it, though.


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