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Poker News | Gambling and the Law

Antigua Fires at U.S. Online Poker Shutdown

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It's not the first time the tiny island nation of Antigua has gone to war with the United States and their controversial laws on what constitutes legal gambling, and it appears Antigua is ready to step back up to the plate to possibly seek more sanctions against the United States.  Antigua's actions are a reaction to the poker outrage that occurred on April 15th, (Black Friday), when the DOJ revealed the contents of indictments against the three biggest online poker sites - PokerStars, Full Tilt Poker, and Absolute Poker.  Included with the indictments were warrants for the owners behind the companies, confiscation of the poker sites’ .com names, and freezing 75 bank accounts that held poker player's money.

Antigua's argues that the United States' crackdown against foreign betting sites is illegal and protectionist because the U.S. allows gambling for money in U.S. casinos and allows state-regulated horse racing.

"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 advisor, told Reuters by telephone on Thursday. "It's as if Antigua would put Americans in jail for selling pineapples."

When the U.S. prosecutors in New York seized the .com names and shut down the three online poker sites last week, their owners were charged with money laundering and fraud - to the tune of $3 Billion. The U.S. charges that banks and regulators were tricked into processing illegal online gaming proceeds from U.S. customers by the three online poker sites.

PokerStars - incorporated in the Isle of Man, and Full tilt Poker - incorporated in Ireland, were allowed by U.S. prosecutors to reopen their websites so players from outside the United States could resume playing and players could withdraw funds from their accounts. Absolute Poker - based in Antigua, could do the same if they agreed to prohibit U.S. players from real money games and they would have to appoint an independent monitor to enforce the agreement.

Harold Lovell, Antigua's finance minister, called the shutdown an illegal attempt to squelch competition and released the following statement:

"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.

According to the Journal of International Commerce and Economics, online gambling is Antigua's second-largest employer after tourism. Antigua argues that betting operators have every right to offer their services to American consumers and the World Trade Organization (WTO) agreed.

The WTO ruled in 2005 that the U.S. violated international agreements on trade in service when they prosecuted the operators of offshore internet gambling sites.  The U.S. argument?  The restrictions were necessary to protect public morality.  The WTO rejected that argument.

Even though Antigua claimed it was losing $3.4 Billion a year due to the U.S. ban, the figure was set at $21 Million in 2007 by the WTO and Antigua could retaliate by suspending that amount annually in intellectual property rights held by U.S. firms. At the end of 2007, the USA asked Antigua to back off imposing sanctions.

The U.S. prosecutors argue that they shut down the sites because the owners conducted fraudulent transactions and laundered money.  Mendel, Antigua's lawyer, argues that the U.S. illegally blocked them from using banking services and regular credit cards.

"They're not defrauding anybody. They're not stealing money from anybody. They're just trying to run their businesses," Mendel said.

The rest of the world gets to play online poker, the U.S. players want to play online poker too, but the U.S. players have to be protected, their morality is at stake.  Go Antigua!  Knock the U.S. prosecutors to their knees and then finish them off. Shuffle up and deal!

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