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American roulette

The US stance on Web gambling has forced it into a corner with the world. It's time to look at US hypocrisy.

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The more America opens the door to legalized gambling, the harder it gets to shut it when the need arises. That's the big message in a standoff between the US and the rest of the world over whether to ban gambling on the Internet.

As a new, easier route to an old vice, Web gambling allows billions of people, including Net-savvy teenagers, to play games for money with strangers in the privacy of their homes, their screens a digital altar to a god of chance with the false promise of unearned wealth.

It has also greatly increased the number of gaming addicts among those who wouldn't go to a racetrack or casino. And it creates a new opportunity for organized crime.

For those reasons, Congress has slammed the door on Internet gambling in the US by restricting the use of credit cards to pay for it, only to have the World Trade Organization rule last March that the move is illegal.

In May, the US decided to use an escape clause and simply exclude Web gambling from its list of services that it would allow the WTO to cover. It was a bold step that rattled other nations because it punches a hole in the WTO's framework and might come back to hurt the US on other trade issues.

Washington's move set the stage for several countries, starting with the Caribbean nation of Antigua and Barbuda, to demand compensation for lost income in not being able to serve American gamblers. Antigua had staked its economy on being a center for Internet gambling. Negotiations opened last month with little hope the US will pay the $3.4 billion a year demanded by Antigua.


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