UIGEA Driving Force Goodlatte Announces 2018 Retirement from Congress

Updated: November 11th, 2017 by Haley Hintze

Here’s another bit of good news for the future of regulated online poker in the United States: US Representative Bob Goodlatte, chairman of the powerful House Judiciary Committee, will retire from Congress at the end of 2018.

Goodlatte, a Republican Congressman from Virginia who will have served 26 years in the House upon his retirement, owned a special pedestal of infamy with regards to the online-poker and online-gambling world back in 2006. That was because of his strident push to help force the 2006 Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act, or UIGEA, through the House of Representatives as part of an unrelated port-security measure.

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-VA

When the bill passed the US Senate in similar fashion and was signed into law just a few weeks later by President George W. Bush, the online-poker world shook. Most major offshore sites facing the US market were forced to depart, especially if they had corporate presences in the United Kingdom or other European countries. Within a couple of months, former global online-poker market leader PartyPoker had ceded that “world’s largest online poker site” moniker to rival PokerStars, which parlayed the misfortune of Party and others into global online-poker domination.

Of course, PokerStars and a handful of other major sites that remained open to US players suffered their own catastrophe in 2011, amid the US’s “Black Friday” crackdown. That’s another story, however, even if the seeds of that were planted back in 2006 with the passage of the UIGEA.

Goodlatte was one of four primary movers of the bill through the two houses of the US Congress. Goodlatte and the bill’s original author, Rep. Jim Leach (R-IA), shepherded the bill through the House, while then-Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN) and anti-gambling Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ) did the same in the US Senate. The UIGEA was tucked into the larger bill without a proper reading; most Congressman did not know the full details of the UIGEA insertion, and it was shoved through both houses of the US Congress in an irregular, post-midnight vote.

Goodlatte’s duplicity in the matter was especially disgusting, and the episode has dogged his career, despite online gambling being a relatively minor topic in the US’s national scheme of legislative matters. Goodlatte tripped all over his supposed legislative tenets in jamming the UIGEA through the House of Representatives and its Judiciary Committee.

Goodlatte, the avowed 10th Amendment (states’ rights) advocate, ignored that professed advocacy in order to foist the federal-level UIGEA into law, thus delaying for years the rights of individual US states to decide their own online-gambling futures. The poorly-written UIGEA created a legal limbo which existed until late 2011, when a legal opinion written by the US’s then-Attorney General, Eric Holder, effectively narrowed the reach of the earlier 1961 Wire Act, which the UIGEA expanded upon.

Then again, a lot of that could have been crony capitalism, Bob Goodlatte-style. Goodlatte made sure the UIGEA carried a specific exemption to provide the online-gambling future of the horseracing industry, which is a big deal in Virginia, just as it is a bit further west, in Kentucky.

As it is, Goodlatte is the last of the four Congressman associated with the UIGEA to be seated in Congress. His House cohort in the UIGEA matter, Jim Leach, suffered an upset loss just a month after the UIGEA was signed, with backlash from Iowa’s online-poker players playing a small but important role in that upset.

Then again, anti-online gambling fanatics come and go in the US Congress. For every Jim Leach or Bill Frist or Bob Goodlatte, there’s a Jason Chaffetz or a Spencer Bachus growing up like a fungus to take his place. The corrupt Chaffetz is already gone, of course, and Bachus, from Alabama, is cut from the same cloth as would-be Alabama Senator Roy Moore. Fortunately, there’s a groundswell afoot within American politics that might see the country lurch to the left in the 2018 elections, which would prevent Goodlatte’s seat from being filled by yet another anti-gambling, crony-capitalist conservative.

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