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Antigua attorney speaks out on landmark WTO case

DOJ, USTR keep heads in sand

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The DOJ seems to view this case - which centers primarily on cross border remote wagering on horse racing - as a kind of trojan horse for the broader internet gambling industry. How true is that? Why not just concede on that narrowly defined issue and move on?

Because it is not "that narrowly defined issue". As I mentioned earlier, the United States tried to spin its loss in this case as being only about horse racing, but that was simply not the case. Now they are having to face the reality of the case for the first time, and it is making things much more difficult for them. It is indeed about "the broader internet gambling industry" and by refusing to engage with Antigua over the issue in a timely manner, they may have opened the Pandora's box that can never again be shut.

In particular, they have now gotten the European Union seeking massive economic concessions, and if they thought that we were a problem, the EU is going to be a much more difficult monster for the United States to wrestle. While Antigua is going to have to work hard and be creative to find ways to effectively retaliate against the United States, the EU won't have any trouble at all. The United States is literally facing multi-billions of trade retaliation from the EU in all sorts of trade completely unrelated to gambling.

All of a sudden, for example, American exporters of auto parts, electric guitars or cotton sweaters to the EU are going to be shut or priced out of the market. All of those sectors stand to be sacrificed or at least severely compromised by the United States in this case, all so the United States can protect its domestic gambling industry. Or, perhaps even worse, to satisfy some dated little constituency in the DOJ. Simply boggles the mind.

You have intimate knowledge of this case - just where do you think it really goes from here?

To paraphrase The Dude, Antigua abides! We are going to press on here. Everything we are facing currently is unchartered territory, and the good thing about that is that you are free to make whatever claims you feel you can justify and take whatever trail you think you can convince the WTO to follow. Our thinking in this case has never been square-headed and it is not about to get to be at this point. What we really hope for here is that the United States will gain some reason and look to compromise, finally.

Antigua didn't bring this case so it can sell cheap Microsoft products or DVDs. This case was brought on behalf of a regulated, fair domestic gambling and betting industry. Antigua wants to be able to provide these services to American consumers, who very clearly want them. While there is still large ground for compromise, at the end of the day Antigua wants and deserves to be able to offer these services on some agreed and rational basis. Let's hope that wisdom prevails here, and this whole dispute becomes just a footnote to WTO history rather than a defining moment. ®

Burke Hansen, attorney at large, heads a San Francisco law office

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