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Poker News: April 23rd, 2011

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HEADLINE: World Trade Organization Could Sanction U.S. for Online Poker Crackdown

The Caribbean nation of Antigua and Barbuda, home to Absolute Poker, is ready to continue a fight in the World Trade Organization over the United States’ actions to prevent Americans from playing online poker, according to a Thursday article on Reuters.

The nation’s stance is that this past Friday’s shutdowns of the major online poker sites are illegal under international law, since gambling is widely permissible in the United States — U.S. brick-and-mortar casinos allow wagering and online betting on horse racing is state regulated.

“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,” Mark Mendel, the Caribbean government’s legal adviser, told Reuters. “It’s as if Antigua would put Americans in jail for selling pineapples.”

Antigua’s finance minister, Harold Lovell, issued a statement on Wednesday calling the federal indictments an illegal attempt to kill competition. “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,” Lovell said.

Additional concerns have been raised over the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Department of Justice having the authority to shut down the domain names of the major online poker sites. Full Tilt Poker pro Andy Bloch Tweeted on Black Friday: Isn’t seizing a .com domain name (without a trial even) a clear violation of WTO [General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade]? On Wednesday, Full Tilt Poker and PokerStars reacquired their respective dot-com sites in an effort to return player funds. Absolute Poker has yet to enter into a similar agreement with the DoJ.

According to the Reuters article, the WTO has ruled against the U.S. before on this issue. In 2005 it determined that the U.S. violated international trade agreements by prosecuting foreign online gambling sites. However, the ruling did nothing to change the United States’ stance on internet gaming, since the decision was nothing more than a slap on the wrist — the WTO said Antigua could retaliate by suspending about $20 million in “intellectual property rights held by U.S. firms.”

Despite past ineffectiveness, government officials from the twin-island nation will meet to discuss whether to return to the WTO to seek more sanctions against the U.S., which has been a member of the organization since its inception in 1995. Even if more are levied, it seems unlikely that the U.S. will alter its course on prosecuting the major online sites, specifically Antigua’s Absolute Poker, since the WTO does not have the power to make a member country amend, alter, or repeal its laws or regulations.

Article downloaded from the World Wide Web on April 23rd, 2011

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