The island of Antigua announced today that it was commencing an overhaul of its online wagering regulations in an effort to solidify its reputation as a leader in online gambling regulation. The move is designed to ensure that operators who set up in Antigua follow minimum standards, particularly in the areas of underage and problem gambling which the United States argued was its biggest concerns in regards to online gambling regulation. With these new regulations, not only will it demonstrate to the world that the Antigua is concerned about its social responsibilities with regards to online remote gambling, and is hence an ideal area to set up shop, but it will also give more reason for the European Union to join Antigua in its dispute with the United States. Throughout the European Union, countries are starting to regulate and legalize online gambling, and if Antigua has regulations that are at least as stringent as those from the EU countries where it is legalized, it would be difficult for the EU not to take Antigua's side in a WTO dispute where both are chartered members. Clearly, the move is also designed to eliminate any meaningful arguments from U.S. representatives which appealed the WTO ruling on the grounds that online gambling is "immoral".
Ironically this announcement by Antigua came only 2 days after Senior U.S. district judge Lowell Reed Jr. struck down a government law (The Online Child Protection Act of 1998) which made it a crime for websites to allow access to children to view "harmful" material. While that law was aimed at pornography sites, it clearly could have been applied to gambling sites as well. The judge argued that while it's important to protect children from sites which could harm them, it was more important to uphold the right to free speech and hence the Online Child Protection Act was unconstitutional. His exact quote was: "Perhaps we do the minors of this country harm if First Amendment protections, which they will with age inherit fully, are chipped away in the name of their protection." Reed also argued in the Philadelphia courthouse that there were already adequate methods for blocking children from these sites via filters such as Net Nanny, which really weren't all that effective at the time the law was passed, but now block out almost all content that it is intended to. Reed argued that these filters further provided parents some control in determining what is appropriate for their children. Clearly some material that is offensive to 8 year olds may not be offensive to 16 year olds. The filtering software of today is so sophisticated that it could indeed adjust to the differential. If a 14 year old is required to look up some sexual information on the web for a health project, the Online Child Protection Act would have made it illegal for the website to allow the 14 year old access to that site, which of course is inane. The defeat of the law was applauded by the ACLU who were at the forefront in trying to have the law struck down.
The parallels of the Online Child Protection Act of 1998 and Kyl's Online Gambling Prohibition Act of 1997 are obvious. The Online Child Protection Act was introduced in the House of Representatives by a Republican Michael G. Oxley who stated "In order for electronic learning and commerce to prosper, the Internet must be a clean and safe place for young minds." A companion bill was introduced in the Senate by Republican Dan Coates. And like Kyl's bill, the law was determined as necessary for American citizens' own good. As one will recall, in introducing his bill he stated that the bill was necessary to protect parents from their children because Little Johnny could "steal dad's credit card and gamble away the family pay check." It appears the Republicans feel that they know the intricacies of the internet better than all other Americans and have thus deemed themselves as the thought police and that they are better suited than parents to determine what minors should see, read and believe.
Judge Lowell Reed Jr's comments were important to Antigua because Antiguan gaming companies not only show up on any filtering system, but also clearly state that minors are not permitted and actually advertise for Net Nanny, Cybersitter, etc. So the fact that the government of Antigua is prepared to go beyond what the courts ruled as means that are more than adequate means in blocking children from "harmful" websites is testimony to its determination to become the leader in online regulation. As Kaye McDonald, director of gaming stated in the Antiguan Sun: "We will improve our statutory requirements to further ensure licensees comply with international best-practices with regard to their social responsibilities by further restricting problem and under age gaming. We have historically, led the way with regards to ensuring player fairness and the prevention of financial crime and fraud - these amendments will ensure Antigua & Barbuda remains the world's premiere regulated interactive gaming jurisdiction in these areas."
No doubt, the U.S. department of justice will shoot down the new regulations, but at some point it will have to acknowledge Antigua's attempts at wide acceptance, particularly when the rest of the world identifies the country as a leader in online gambling regulation. Maybe it's time for the ACLU to get involved with defeating the UIGEA as well. After all, if the ACLU deems it every American's right to view pornography online and have fought for that right, then clearly the ACLU should fight for Americans to gamble online.