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WTO rules in online gambling dispute

Roll-up, roll-up, everyone's a winner in this game

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US gamblers should be allowed to splash their money around in the Caribbean’s online casinos, the World Trade Organization has decided.

Back in November, 2004, a three-person WTO panel decided that US federal and state laws breached the general agreement on trade and services (GATS). This did not go down too well with the US - which has both a puritanical streak running right through the national psyche and a thriving, and powerful, home-grown gaming sector.

This week a WTO appeal panel uphold most of the previous panel’s decisions, but agreed with the US that some restrictions were “necessary to protect public morals or maintain public order”. The problem was, the panel decided, that the offshore gambling outlets were not being allowed the same degree of access as US-based gambling operations.

The judgement allowed everyone to claim they were a winner – something we suspect doesn’t happen very often in the world of virtual poker and cyber baccarat.

"U.S. restrictions on internet gambling can be maintained," Acting U.S. Trade Representative Peter F. Allgeier insisted. "This report essentially says that if we clarify U.S. internet gambling restrictions in certain ways, we’ll be fine."

Or, as Mark Mendel, lead legal counsel for Antigua's case, put it, “Unless the US wants to repeal all of its laws that currently permit any form of domestic remote gambling and also adopt laws to affirmatively prohibit it in all forms country-wide, they will have to provide Antigua fair access."

In the original dispute, Antigua and Barbuda had argued US action to prevent US-issued credit cards being used for gambling threatened the livelihoods of its citizens. The US had argued its prohibition helped to prevent money launder and protect vulnerable members of US society.

And some people say globalization is a bad thing. Now, slap another three big ones on red for me, the kids won’t need their college fund for years yet.

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