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More U.S. States Against Online Gambling

January 5, 2009

After Kentucky went ahead with the domain name seizure two other states have flexed their muscles against gambling. The first is Utah. Republican Utah representative Sheryl Allen has introduced a resolution that calls for all laws related to gambling to be the preserve of the state rather than allowing gambling to be subject to federal laws. This includes online gambling. Utah is one of the two American states that ban all forms of gambling.

It is widely perceived that the new federal administration will have to negotiate online gambling issues with the World Trade Organization (WTO) under pressure from the European Union and Antigua. Both have challenged America's ban on online gambling as violating the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS), to which the United States is a signatory, and the WTO has ruled against the United States. So far the American authorities have ignored the orders passed by the WTO and have delayed engagement with Antigua and the European Union. But they would have to do so sooner or later.

Therefore the Utah legislators want to preempt any federal commitments that may arise as a result of future negotiations between America and the WTO and ensure that gambling remains illegal in Utah. Allen, who heads the Utah International Trade Commission, which drafted the resolution, has tried to color the issue as one of the states' rights rather than one of the moral issues related to gambling. He said that it was important that the states give inputs before the country signs international agreements. Shurtleff, Utah's Attorney General was more blunt when he said, "Antigua has no business trying to write Utah's gambling laws."

The second state to act against gambling is Alabama. Alabama's governor Bob Riley has formed a special task force that will investigate gambling operations across the state. Former Jefferson County District Attorney David Barber will head this task force. Barber is a veteran anti-gambling prosecutor. His past achievements include victories against electronic games that offered $5 gift certificates to winners and video sweepstakes games at the Birmingham dog track. Riley defended his choice of the leader of the task force saying that Barber retained legal authority as a supernumerary district attorney and would have the power to bring civil or criminal actions.

Governor Riley said that the immediate reason for creating the task force was that he believed that electronic gambling machines in some locations were illegal and needed to be removed. The Attorney General, Troy King, opined that though he does not agree with the presence of these slot machines, their presence was not violating Alabama law. It was this difference of opinion that lead to the governor to appointing Barber as the head of the legal task force instead of King. Governor Riley does not have the support of some of the state's legislators as well; who have indicated that expanding gambling and levying state taxes is the way to bolster the state's precarious financial situation.

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