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Antigua Anticipates Favorable Ruling on Trade Issue; Small Nation Takes 'David' Stance against US 'Goliath'

6 Apr 2005

ANTIGUA -- (PRESS RELEASE)-- The small nation of Antigua and Barbuda could experience the proverbial "David versus Goliath scenario" come April 7th when the World Trade Organization's (WTO) trade ruling is announced. If the ruling goes as projected, it will be the first time a small country has defeated the United States in the world's increasingly important and respected international trade court.

If the original November 2004 WTO ruling is upheld, the US will face compliance issues requiring the US government to address in a reasoned fashion its approach to online gaming rather than simply prohibiting it altogether. "Most important will be the validation of Antiguan businesses' right to trade with the large US internet gaming market," explained Ron Maginley, spokesman for the Antigua Offshore Gaming Association, an industry trade group.

"This form of entertainment is widely recognized and accepted in many parts of the world--especially Europe," added Maginley. "Antigua is confident in the professionalism of its operators and asks only for fair and reasonable access to the immense United States domestic gambling market."

Antiguan officials anticipate that major US companies, including Citibank, Chase Manhattan, Bank of America, Clear Channel Communication, and Bravo TV, may soon find themselves required to comply with the WTO ruling legitimizing trade between Antiguan online gaming companies and the US market. In recent years, many American companies have turned away business from Antiguan gambling companies after receiving subpoenas or threats of prosecution from the US Justice Department and prosecutors such as New York Attorney General Elliot Spitzer.

Following the November 2004 announcement of Antigua's win before a WTO panel, the United States in January appealed the adverse ruling to the seven-member Appellate Body of the WTO. The hearing before the Appellate Body is seen by Antiguans as a "final hurdle in a lengthy and unprecedented legal battle," explained Mark Mendel, the lead legal counsel for Antigua in the dispute.

"Despite intense skepticism from virtually every quarter, our case is extremely strong and deceptively simple," added Mendel. "We have long been optimistic that the impartial dispute resolution machinery of the WTO would function as expected, justice will be served and potential compliance issues facing various US corporations and the US Department of Justice will be resolved in a manner which is favorable to fair and responsible international commerce."

The Antiguans have argued that it is inappropriate to treat businesses conducting transactions online as unequal to or somehow worse than traditional brick-and-mortar operations, or for the US government to assume lack of industry integrity without any objective evidence.

Previous speculation in the US media suggested that even if Antigua, one of the smallest members of the WTO, wins the case, it cannot impose meaningful trade sanctions against the US. However, Antigua remains quietly confident with the knowledge that the US will adhere to the WTO ruling with the same vigor that it has demanded of other countries when it has won similar WTO rulings.

Mendel predicted that a decision to uphold the original WTO ruling will ultimately result in US companies making accommodations to Antiguan gambling operators. "At the end of the day," said Mendel, "we expect major internet search engines, including Google and Yahoo, financial institutions and credit card service providers will have to do business with Antiguan internet gaming sites on the same basis as they do with US domestic gaming interests, including hundreds of American casinos, prolific state lotteries and many others."

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