Licences in Antigua were originally granted under the Free Trade & Processing Act and managed by the Financial Services Regulatory Commission’s Division of Gaming (FSRC). A new licensing body, the Directorate of Offshore Gaming, was established in 1999 to licence the rising industry of online casinos. Those companies granted licences are handed the 'Preferential Seal' of the Directorate, meaning they have passed rigorous checks, meet fair play standards, and have a physical presence and primary gaming server on the island.
The Directorate of Offshore Gaming offers two types of licence covered by the Interactive Gaming and Interactive Wagering Regulations, which were amended in 2007, with each licence lasting exactly one year.
Once each of these licences has expired, it can be renewed for a fee of $5,000.
The small Caribbean island of Antigua, along with its twin island Barbuda, was one of the first countries to react to the world of online gaming, granting licences as far back as 1994.
Antigua has run into loggerheads with American gambling legislation on occasion. According to American legislators, Antigua is prohibited from providing all online gaming services to the USA through a key law known as the Federal Wire Act. It is estimated that Antigua’s share of online gaming traffic fell from 59% in 2001 to just 7% in 2007, largely due to America’s zealous prosecutions of online gaming firms. However, Antigua had been aware of this decline, and has taken actions to counter the US stranglehold.
In what could be seen as a David vs Goliath battle, Antigua challenged America by starting a dispute resolution process with the World Trade Organisation (WTO). In 2004, the WTO found in favour of the small island, declaring that “the US restrictions against online gambling violated international treaties.” America launched an unsuccessful appeal and, even after this defeat, chose not to comply with the WTO ruling. After years of objections to the WTO about America’s inaction, it handed Antigua a dangerous gift: the authorisation to suspend payments for intellectual property rights to American copyrights and trademarks, as they are protected under the WTO IP right agreement. Although this was authorised by the WTO in January 2013, Antigua have not yet used it to sanction the US and offer what opponents have dubbed “legal piracy".
Much of Antigua’s online gaming history has been marred with its ongoing dispute with America. However, there are signs that this decade old stalemate may be drawing to a close. The Antigua and Barbuda Minister for International Trade and Foreign Affairs, Charles Fernandez, had a meeting in July 2015 with his US counterpart, Assistant US Trade Representative for the Western Hemisphere John Melle. The meeting was arranged to try and pave the way towards a resolution between the two countries over the WTO case. In an official press release, the US Government described the meeting as “productive and useful.” Should a resolution be reached, Antigua may yet see its slice of the global online gaming industry rise again.
Antigua, part of the former British colony of Antigua and Barbuda, is on the UK’s white-list of gambling jurisdictions, meaning that its licensees are permitted to advertise their services in Britain.
The Directorate takes its social responsibilities very seriously, and lists four main objectives in its commitment to keeping high standards in this area:
As well as licensing a number of popular online gaming companies, Antigua is home to six casinos, including the Asot’s Arcade Jackpot Casino and Grand Princess Casino. Slots are very popular, and many of the casinos have poker tables as well as offering other table games like Roulette, Craps, and Blackjack. The various casino resorts dotted around the island offer local poker tournaments, while online poker sites based on the island, such as Ladbrokes Poker and Bet365 Poker, run online tournaments from the island’s servers.
In addition, Antigua has attracted investment from other nations, most notably China. In 2014, Prime Minister Gaston Browne signed a deal with Chinese firm Yida International Investment Antigua to build a $750 million casino and resort. It is believed that this will be the first of many investments from this one firm, with the Labour Party claiming the deal will bring an extra $200 million annually for the next decade into the island's economy.