Online Gambling Operators May Want to Leave Antigua Now

Written by:
C Costigan
Published on:
Antigua Online Gambling

In a report that came out Thursday, it was revealed that online gambling companies operating out of Antigua have now come under intense scrutiny following the country's financial regulatory body's boss' involvement in an alleged fraud at the Stanford International Bank (SIB).  Antigua has long licensed offshore gambling enterprises since 1995.  It also won a landmark trade dispute case in the World Trade Organization against the US.

Finance Minister Harold Lovell said in an interview on Observer Radio yesterday that in addition to firing the Financial Services Regulatory Commission (FSRC) administrator and Chief Executive Officer Leroy King and temporarily replacing him with banking official Everett Christian, the Cabinet has instructed the agency to take a closer look at other businesses in the offshore sector.

These actions come following allegations that the former FSRC head assisted investor Sir Allen Stanford carry out an alleged US$8 billion fraud at the Antigua-based SIB, by "looking the other way" and accepting hundreds of thousands of dollars and other gifts in exchange.

"The Board has been instructed to conduct immediately, a compliance audit of all registered companies," he said. "We want to make sure that the world can see that in light of what has happened we are not simply sitting down and doing nothing. We are taking proactive steps, so that is why we have ordered the compliance audit, to ensure that there are no other situations like this."

Heading up the audit will be the interim FSRC CEO Christian, Country Manager of Antigua and Barbuda Investment Bank and head of the Antigua and Barbuda Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

Antigua is also looking to improve its now tarnished image through a public relations campaign.

"We have given a directive to the Board that they should look to hire a communications consultant or public relations company in order to address this issue so that we can fight back as far as the image of Antigua and Barbuda is concerned," the Finance Minister said.

While Lovell said he did not believe that the current situation would have much of an impact on the island's online gambling industry or its WTO dispute with the United States, many industry observers believe it would be fool hearty to assume Antigua would not want to offer up a sacrificial lamb of sorts.  At least one Antigua-based Internet gambling firm was under investigation by the US Attorney's office out of Baltimore last year, though the outcome in that case has not immediately been revealed.

Lovell said he is expected to meet with new US Trade Representative Ambassador Ron Kirk, who was appointed by the new Barack Obama administration, to discuss the issue soon.

"He has responded to the correspondence that I sent and indicated that he would be willing to meet with me, so we are now making arrangements through the Embassy in Washington for a

meeting to be held, as soon as possible, so that we can recommence the discussions toward finding an amicable settlement to this matter," he explained.

Meantime, there has been no indication that Antigua and Barbuda's placement on the United Kingdom's white list of countries of approved gaming jurisdictions is in jeopardy either, though that is yet to be determined should more evidence of improprieties mount. 

World Sports Exchange and Intertops were among the first licensed offshore gambling companies on the island.  Both were among the first to offer online gaming in 1996.  Bodog gained its license in 2005.  That company acquired World Wide Tele Sports, one of Antigua's most established sports betting enterprises long before licenses were ever issued. That company set up shop in Antigua in 1992.

Another Antigua licensed online gambling firm, BetonSports, came under indictment in July of 2006.

Christopher Costigan, Gambling911.com

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