Will the US Face World Trade Organization Sanctions Over “Black Friday?”

by Lou on April 23, 2011

According to a recent Reuters piece, the Caribbean nation of Antigua and Barbuda—you can feel free to refer to it as Antigua and pronounce it “An-tee-ga,” everyone does—is prepared to take the United States to the World Trade Organization (WTO) over their actions on Black Friday.

Antigua believes that the Black Friday indictments that lead PokerStars and Full Tilt to shut off access to US customers is illegal under WTO agreements because gambling is generally permitted in the United States, and therefore the US cannot close out foreign competition.

Remember, the WTO is not some do-goody, Euro-centric, left-of-center social organization.  Our compliance with the WTO is based on a treaty we entered into voluntarily.  In fact, the US was one of the prime movers in establishing the WTO, originally to provide protection against copyright infringement from China. So the US has gotten much more from their WTO affiliation than they have given.

If Antigua takes the US to the WTO over online gaming issues, they are likely to lose, just as they lost before.  If you Google “WTO online gaming decisions” you’ll find 1,100,000 citations.  Or you can go to http://www.pokerplayernewspaper.com/node/6450, and read my summary of these issues in Poker Player Newspaper if you need a quick refresher on the issues.

Not only is the US likely to lose before the World Trade Organization just as they did in the past, they are also likely to ignore the actions of the WTO just as they did before.  So Antigua, a tiny nation where online gaming ranks just behind tourism in their economic hierarchy, is likely left out in the cold when it comes to economic losses.

And the US? Well, ignoring the requirements of a treaty is a serious blow to its international stature, regardless of whether one happens to be opposed to online poker or not.

Antigua’s legal advisor, Mark Mendel, said: “I don’t think there’s another country in the world that puts people in jail for engaging in trade that’s lawful under international law.  It’s as if Antigua would put Americans in jail for selling pineapples.”

Antiguan finance minister Harold Lovell was quoted as saying, “I am concerned that at this point in time United States authorities continue to prosecute non-domestic suppliers of remote gaming services in clear contravention of international law.”

A few years ago, when the US chose to ignore a WTO decision, Professor Joseph Weiler who directs the Jean Monnet Centre for International and European Economic Law and Justice at NYU School of Law commented, “In this area, the US has lost all its cases and appeals before the WTO’s highest judicial authorities. And yet in what can only be described as puzzling and haughty contempt for the rule of law, it is acting as if it won those cases.

“The US is pursuing European nationals and corporations and threatening them with lengthy jail time and punitive fines based on US laws which have already been unequivocally held to be in violation of American WTO obligations.

“This is without precedent. It deals a blow to the multilateral trade system at the worst possible moment for the world economy and to Western economies which rely increasingly on services for our prosperity. It serves no discernable American national interest and this is a bad day for the reputation of the US in the area of international law.”

The same statement could be made today.  In terms of this nation’s embarrassing response to its international treaty obligations, there’s a different president in the White House and a different administration, but when it comes to this particular treaty, not much has changed.  And that’s sad.

{ 1 comment }

Spotty April 25, 2011 at 1:33 pm

Can you call gambling “trading”? I don’t think WTO has much to say in this one. The poker rooms knew what they were in for.

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