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Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Online casino discrimination

A World Trade Organization arbitrator today gave the United States until April 3 to end discrimination against foreign online betting companies following a complaint by the Caribbean island of Antigua.

WTO judges ruled April 7 that the U.S. ban, in the interests of "public morals," can stand only as long as the prohibitions don't discriminate against foreign companies. The United States has said it can comply with WTO rules by "clarifying" its restrictions, without opening itself to foreign Internet gambling.

Antigua-registered companies such as Sportingbet Plc and account for about a quarter of wagers in the estimated $7 billion to $12 billion global industry. The island, which developed online gambling to boost its tourism-dependent economy after a series of hurricanes, is seeking access to the U.S. gambling market, the world's biggest. U.S. residents account for about 55 percent of online bets.

Antigua, a nation of 67,800 people and the smallest WTO government ever to lodge a dispute, scored a victory against U.S. online gambling restrictions in November, when WTO judges said the Bush administration had failed to justify the ban on moral grounds and had committed itself to open the industry in 1995.