Online-Gambling Foe Goodlatte Announces Retirement from US Congress

There’s more good news today for the future of regulated online gambling in the United States, as long-time online-gambling opponent and co-author of the widely despised 2006 UIGEA, Robert Goodlatte, has announced his retirement from the US Congress.

Goodlatte, a Republican from Virginia, was one of the original four horsemen of the UIGEA (Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act) apocalypse. Goodlatte was a co-author of the UIGEA, which was inserted in secretive manner into a unrelated but “must pass” port-security measure. That larger bill was passed late at night in the fall of 2006 without most Congressman having even read the majority of the bill, and it was soon signed into law by then-president George W. Bush.

Rep. Bob Goodlatte

Rep. Bob Goodlatte
Image credit: congress.gov

Goodlatte will continue serving in the US House of Representatives and as the chairman of the powerful House Judiciary Committee until the end of the current session of Congress, which runs until the next major national election, in November of 2018. Goodlatte has served as the representative for Virginia’s Sixth Congressional District for what will be, when he departs, a total of 26 years.

Few measures are more closely tied to Goodlatte’s legacy than the badly-written UIGEA. Goodlatte was the bill’s primary co-sponsor, joining original author Rep. Jim Leach (R-IA); the UIGEA bill was originally known as the Leach Act. The UIGEA’s impact was immediate, blocking direct access to the country’s online banking system for most transactions deemed to be connected to online gambling. The impact was hardest felt by US-facing online-poker and gambling sites that were based in the United Kingdom, due to reciprocity agreements that made them easy prey for US prosecutors had those sites continued to offer services to US players.

The passage of the UIGEA did little to change consumer desire, however, and opened the door for several questionable sites to gain greater US market share, joining those few pre-2006 sites who weren’t based in the UK or EU and thus found ways to stay open to US play. But Goodlatte and the other UIGEA authors directly paved the way for pure criminal enterprises such as Lock Poker to steal millions from US players amid a largely unregulated, post-UIGEA scene.

Goodlatte and three other Congressman played primary roles in the UIGEA’s passage. The other US Representative with primary involvement was Iowa’s Leach, and he was voted out of a swing district just two months after the UIGEA’s passage. Leach’s narrow defeat was attributed in part to a voter backlash — of perhaps 2-3% — triggered by his role in passing the unpopular UIGEA.

The UIGEA’s primary backers in the US Senate fared little better. The driving force there was aspiring presidential candidate Sen. Bill Frist (R-TN), who inserted the UIGEA language into the Senate’s version of the UIGEA bill, as a sop to his conservative-religious base. Frist’s political career blew up soon after, dogged by controversy into the finances of his hospital corporation, and repercussions from findings that his 2000 Senate run violated US campaign-finance laws. Then there was the personal-repugnance factor: Frist later admitted to falsely adopting numerous shelter cats during his medical school training, claiming they’d be adopted pets, but he instead performed medical experiments.

The fourth UIGEA driving force, retired US Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ), had for years introduced anti-online-gambling legislation in the US Congress before becoming an important part of the UIGEA push. Kyl, one of the most conservative US Senators during his 18-year career, was the radical right’s primary representative on the online-gambling issue, and it was through his schemes that much of what the UIGEA actually contained was largely hidden from Senate examination.

Goodlatte was thus the last of the four to remain in politics, yet in many ways the UIGEA sage marked his low-water point, putting his hypocrisy on full display. Goodlatte ensured that a strong industry in his native state of Virginia, thoroughbred horseracing, received a special carveout in the UIGEA that allowed for that type of wagering to be legal online.

Even worse was the ongoing display of Goodlatte, an avowed and vocal supporter of states’ rights, utterly ignoring that stance while working to implement the UIGEA, which largely denied US states the right to define and implement their own online-gambling futures.

Goodlatte repeatedly scoffed at the claims by online-poker enthusiasts regarding the game’s strong elements of skill. Goodlatte instead declared that poker was all luck, but when he was challenged to a public poker match by the now-deceased poker book author Lou Krieger, Goodlatte went silent on the topic.

Let’s just say Goodlatte’s exit from the political scene has been a long time in coming, and in large part the poker world wouldn’t mind seeing him bounced down the steps of the Capitol next November with a giant bootprint on his butt.

At least one other outlet commented on Goodlatte’s announced retirement coming on the heels of that of another outspoken online-gambling foe, US Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT). Poker players also cheered Chaffetz’s departure, true, but the immediate exit of Chaffetz months back was for darker reasons: Political blogs generally identified Chaffetz as the source of the leak involving the infamous “Comey memo” and its impact on the 2016 US Presidential election. Chaffetz was, by most accounts, offered a deal, being allowed to resign his office immediately to escape criminal prosecution. Chaffetz’s departure was thus a strong gain for the online-gambling cause, even if the reason behind it was unrelated to the topic.

It’s been a good 2017 for regulated online gambling in the US, nonetheless. Bon voyage, Bobby Goodlatte, and don’t let the horse-barn door hit you in the ass on the way out.

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