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The World Trade Organization (WTO) Appellate Body has issued a ruling on Internet gambling that could have wide implications for the future of online gambling in the United States. The problem: No one agrees on who won. The U.S. government maintains that the recent ruling, which upheld certain U.S. anti-gambling provisions, was a victory for the government. It further claims that the United States can continue to restrict online gambling here. But online gambling supporters argue that the international trade court’s decision was a big boost to the industry, potentially forcing the United States to provide Antiguan cybercasinos fair access to American gamblers. “We understand that gambling, virtually everywhere, is regulated. We understand that the U.S. wants to regulate it. We just want fair access,” said Mark Mendel, lead legal counsel for the Caribbean nation of Antigua and Barbuda, which filed a complaint with the WTO in 2003 alleging that U.S. laws banning online gambling violate international laws. In November, Antigua won its initial dispute with the WTO, which found that U.S. federal and state laws prohibiting online gambling violated certain provisions of the General Agreement on Trade Services (GATS). The U.S. appealed. According to Mendel, the appeals panel upheld the initial ruling and recommended that U.S. laws be brought in conformity with GATS. The ruling also noted that U.S. laws discriminate against foreign commerce, he said. Mendel of El Paso, Texas’ Mendel Blumenfeld also believes that the WTO ruling will end subpoenas or threats of prosecution from the U.S. Department of Justice to companies who do business with offshore gaming companies in Antigua. But the U.S. government insists that it is entitled to maintain restrictions to online gambling. The Office of the U.S. Trade Representative said that it won key arguments before the WTO, specifically one in which the appellate body found that the U.S. could use federal gambling laws to “protect public morals or maintain public order.” That interpretation, the trade office said, exempts U.S. laws prohibiting online gambling from WTO rules. Acting U.S. Trade Representative Peter Allgeier noted in a statement that “the Appellate Body has affirmed that WTO members can protect the public from organized crime and other dangers associated with Internet gambling.”

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