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The World Trade Organisation has ruled against US government restrictions on online gambling.

Antigua and Barbuda said US restrictions on gambling were contrary to the general agreement on trade and services (GATS). Antigua, with a population of 68 000, handles a quarter of the worldwide online bets, according to Bloomberg. More than $6bn is bet online every year.

The ruling is an interim judgement and the final report will not be issued until May. The US is expected to appeal but any ruling would be binding, according to the Financial Times. The US need hardly worry about sanctions from a tiny Caribbean island, but ignoring the ruling would increase perceptions that it picks and chooses which international laws to obey.

Antigua's ambassador to the WTO told the FT that three years ago there were 119 internet gambling companies employing 5,000. Since the US crackdown this has shrunk to 30 companies employing just 1,000.

Nigel Payne, chief executive of sportingbet, told the paper: "Potentially this is a very exciting development for Sportingbet and the online gambling industry. But we need to see the actual report before we start celebrating." ®

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