EU may oppose US gambling laws

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US restrictions on online gambling may be challenged by the European Union, the bloc's top financial regulator said today.

The legality of Internet gambling in the United States was ambiguous for many years, but it was effectively banned last October when President Bush signed legislation outlawing financial transactions for gaming.

Several British online gambling firms were forced out of the US market as a result.

"In my view it is probably a restrictive practice, and we might take it up in another fora," EU Internal Market Commissioner Charlie McCreevy told the European Parliament.

The United States was protecting its own gambling industry by stopping foreign companies from entering the online betting sector, Mr McCreevy said.

However, Mr McCreevy said: "It's not my intention to bring forward a harmonised piece of legislation on gambling in the European Union."

Mr McCreevy had declared that the US rules were a "prima facie" case of protectionism and that the World Trade Organisation (WTO) was a possible venue for tackling them. However, due to the WTO's protracted negotiations to secure a new world trade agreement, he would not rush to file a complaint.

"It's not something of major momentum," Mr McCreevy said. There have been no face-to-face talks about the issue with Peter Mandelson, the EU trade commissioner, he added.

US pressure on the industry continues. The US Justice Department recently demanded information from some of the world's biggest investment banks as part of the investigation into online gambling companies such as Britain's Partygaming.

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