A&B’s pursuit of damages in gaming row ‘just business’

ST JOHN’S, Antigua – Legal advisor to Antigua & Barbuda, Mark Mendel, does not anticipate blowback from the United States as the nations prepare to lock horns over the Internet gambling dispute – saying “it’s just business.”

“There certainly shouldn’t be (any repercussions), because this remedy is one authorised by the WTO (World Trade Organisation),” the Ireland-based attorney said in an interview with OBSERVER Media.

“The US was one of the founding members that suggested this.”

He added, “It is not considered a diplomatic incident. It is just business; it’s trade.”

Mendel maintains the only “repercussions” expected is a favourable decision in the landmark trade case – which he believes will culminate with a settlement “of some kind” with the US.

In 2003, Antigua & Barbuda launched a complaint with the World Trade Organisation, after the US put restrictions on its citizens’ ability to place international online gambling bets – all but bringing the twin-island nation’s $1 billion a year gaming industry to a halt.

In 2007, the WTO ruled in Antigua & Barbuda’s favour, urging the US to either remove unfavourable laws from its books or allow Antigua & Barbuda to go after an “innocent bystander” industry – in this case the US intellectual property industry.

“We would be entitled to suspend the American intellectual property rights and earn from that in some way or another to the tune of US $21 million a year,” Mendel noted.

That amount has now accumulated to the sum of US $120 million to date, an amount that is a pittance when compared to the $3 billion a year price tag Antigua placed on the infraction.

When the two countries meet at the WTO meeting in Geneva on December 17, Mendel said the nation would pursue imposing the punitive damages awarded five years ago – a step they have been, up until now, reluctant to take.

He said there are no easy solutions, but the only avenue left is for the two factions to reach an equitable compromise – even though the US was found to be the offending party by the WTO in 2007.

(More in today’s Daily OBSERVER)