By KEN RITTERAssociated Press
LAS VEGAS (AP) - Antigua and Barbuda is threatening unspecified sanctions against the U.S. if the federal government fails to lift a trade "blockade" preventing the island from hosting Internet gambling, a top government official from the island nation said Wednesday.
Antigua Finance Minister Harold Lovell said that since 2004, the U.S. has fought, lost and now disregards World Trade Organization rulings that the federal government improperly bans banks and credit card companies from processing online gambling payments to businesses outside the U.S.
"Absent a reversal of the U.S. government's illegal blockade of legitimate commerce from our nation, Antigua is prepared to explore the right to exact sanctions on industries in the U.S.," Lovell said in a statement to The Associated Press. He did not provide specifics.
An aide to U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk did not immediately respond to messages about Lovell's speech.
Lovell pointed to recent statements by Kirk about WTO challenges filed by the U.S. against China over policies the American government says improperly subsidize exports of auto parts in violation of WTO free trade rules.
Antigua and Barbuda hopes "this unequivocal stance signals an end to the U.S. government's decade-long violation of WTO rulings" in online gambling, the Caribbean nation finance minister said.
Lovell spoke to the U.S. Online Gaming Law 2012 conference at the Bellagio resort on the Las Vegas Strip.
He cited a May 2007 announcement by the U.S. trade representative that the U.S. had lost the WTO Antigua case, but said that after four years, the process still had not been concluded.
Meanwhile, Antigua is has been able since 2008 to offer Internet gambling to U.K. countries under regulatory oversight, Lovell said.
Lovell cited a U.S. Department of Justice memorandum last December that concluded that the Wire Act, upon which the U.S. law banning Antiguan online gambling business is based, applies only to interstate gambling on sporting contests.
"The implications of this narrow decision are enormous," Lovell said. "It throws aside the whole concept of remote gaming per se being against the law in the United States."
The decision also allows states to offer remote gambling within state lines.
"Why should it make any difference whether a betting transaction crosses a state border?" Lovell asked.
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