WTO enters row over US gaming curbs

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The World Trade Organisation has stepped into the row over online gaming, as the offshore nations which house internet gambling companies accuse the US of unfairness.

The WTO agreed to investigate accusations by Antigua and Barbuda that US laws still discriminate against foreign companies because it prevents them from taking bets from American citizens. The little nations' concern has grown because the US has moved to shut down BetonSports, a UK-listed, Costa Rica-based company which got 80 per cent of its business in the US.

BetonSports said yesterday that investors should not expect a deal with the US authorities that would allow it to resume trading soon, although it has launched an appeal against a restraining order.

Shares across the sector had surged in the hope of a deal, but BetonSports said it was not even in talks. Customer services staff appear to be telling US callers that the site will be running again today but the company gave no reason to believe that is the case.

The company's chief executive, David Carruthers, appears in court in Texas tomorrow to ask for bail while he awaits trial for running an illegal betting operation. The formal charge he faces is racketeering. He was detained last Sunday while changing planes in Dallas on his way from the UK to Costa Rica.

The online gambling industry employs 8,000 people in Costa Rica, while Antigua and Barbuda has licensed 30 betting firms to trade from within its shores. The tiny Caribbean state, population 67,000, says Washington has not complied with a 2005 WTO ruling that the US discriminates between local and foreign operators, because inter-state betting is forbidden.