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Antigua and Barbuda Calls for Renewed Negotiations with U.S. Over Disputed Funds

Reviving a bitter dispute over online gambling which extends over the last decade plus, the Caribbean island nation of Antigua and Barbuda has renewed calls for the United States to pay upwards of $200 million in judgments and associated penalty fees.

The debate dates back to the turn of the 21st century, when the Antiguan Directorate of Gaming began issuing licenses to online poker rooms, casinos, and sportsbooks. These online gambling enterprises operated quite successfully from the loosely regulated Antiguan headquarters – serving American customers as well as players from all over the globe – and by 2000 Antigua and Barbuda was generating $1.7 billion in revenue based on taxes and licensing fees. One year later, that number climbed to $2.4 billion.

Even though both countries were signatories of a trade treaty known as the General Agreement on Trade and Services (GATS), the U.S. government under the Bush Administration began aggressively pursuing offshore online gambling operations. The treaty mandates that all signatories apply the same standards to foreign businesses as they would to domestic ventures.

By 2004 the U.S. had diligently worked to shutter several offshore gambling sites, many of which operated out of Antigua and Barbuda. These closures severely affected the island nation’s bottom line, and based on their belief that the U.S. – where online lotteries, horse race betting, fantasy sports, and other gambling activities are legal – had violated the terms of the GATS treaty, Antigua and Barbuda took their case to court.

Appearing in front of a World Trade Organization (WTO) court in 2004, Antigua and Barbuda successfully argued that the U.S. had no legal right to force offshore online gambling enterprises to withdraw from the American market. The WTO ruled that the U.S. had indeed acted against the spirit of the GATS treaty, thus depriving Antigua and Barbuda of desperately needed tax revenue.

The court issued a judgment of $21 million, but the Bush Administration, along with the subsequent Obama Administration, have since ignored the order.

In 2006 Antigua and Barbuda filed a claim with the WTO Dispute Panel, which then ruled that the U.S. had failed to comply with a lawful ruling. As a result, the WTO allowed Antigua and Barbuda to impose trade sanctions in an effort to recoup their $21 million judgment.

Ten years later and neither side has budged, prompting Gaston Browne, who serves as Antigua and Barbuda’s Prime Minister, to address the situation in a public statement:

“(This) has drawn on for too long to the severe disadvantage of the people of Antigua and Barbuda. It must now be resolved, and we are prepared to pursue the remedies as authorized by the WTO in the interest of fairness.
We will make further efforts to negotiate an acceptable solution with the US, but, like every other citizen and resident of our nation, our patience is wearing then.”

According to Browne, the accumulated interest and penalty fees combined with the original judgement put the U.S. in debt to Antigua and Barbuda by $200 million.

In Washington D.C., Ronald Sanders, the Antiguan ambassador to the U.S., reiterated his nation’s stance that a settlement must be negotiated immediately:

“We’re now entering the twelfth year where the United States has not made sensible proposals to settle the matter.”

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