Costa Rica is taking the United States to arbitration over its withdrawal from the part of its World Trade Organization obligations that deals with online gambling.
At issue is a U.S. law that severely restricts online gambling that passed in October of 2006 and made it a crime for banks and credit card companies to process transactions on behalf of Internet gambling companies.
The law effectively withdrew market access the United States had committed to under its WTO obligations. Following that, the United States pulled out of its WTO commitments to online gambling altogether after losing an arbitration with Antigua.
Costa Rica is therefore seeking compensation for its lost market opportunities, as the U.S. actions have caused a loss of jobs and trade.
“The United States withdrew from its list of WTO service sector commitments regarding online gambling,” said Foreign Trade Minister Marco Vinicio Ruiz in an emailed statement. “As an affected party, Costa Rica has begun a process to discuss compensation for this damage to its rights in other service sectors.”
Thousands of Ticos have lost their jobs since the closing of some sportsbook call centers in response to the new U.S. law. By far the most dramatic was BetOnSports, which let 1,200 employees go and closed up its offices in the San Pedro Mall after its owner was arrested in the Dominican Republic (TT, Aug. 18, 2006).
Eduardo Agami, the president of the Costa Rican Association of Call Centers and Electronic Data, estimates that there are fewer than 200 online gambling companies with call centers in Costa Rica, as some of them have closed in the last few years.
The filing for arbitration is just the latest chapter in the international dispute over the U.S. crackdown on online gambling. Though the U.S. was able to settle with the European Union, Japan, Canada and Australia by allowing them access to different service sectors, Costa Rica, India, Macao and Antigua never reached an agreement.
Antigua had filed a complaint with the WTO, which found in Antigua’s favor. In response, the U.S. withdrew from its WTO obligations related to gambling.
A release from Safe and Secure Internet Gambling Initiative, a lobbying group, said this is the first time a country has withdrawn from WTO obligations in response to a WTO decision.
Costa Rica filed the arbitration request on Jan. 28, at the same time as, but separately from, Antigua’s second request for arbitration.