A New Take on Goodlatte

20 June 2002

Internet gambling was a hot-button issue in a recent primary election in Alabama.

In the days leading up to the June 5 primary election, Tim James, one of the candidates for the republican nomination for governor, accused another candidate, Rep. Bob Riley, a U.S. congressman, of supporting Internet gambling by, curiously, voting for the Goodlatte bill in a House of Representatives committee meeting.

At that point, the Goodlatte bill, which was proposed in November by Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., to halt Internet gambling by way of updating the 1961 Interstate Wire Act, contained a number of exemptions for established gambling industries. Among the carve outs were exemptions allowing lotteries, horse racing companies and casinos to offer online wagering in states where the practice was deemed legal.

On Tuesday, however, an amendment proposed by Rep. Chris Cannon, R-Utah, passed. Cannon successfully stripped the bill of its hand outs to important lobbying groups like the American Gaming Association and the horse racing industry.

Due to the nature of the now-gone carve outs, some legislators felt that the bill actually would have led to more gambling on the Internet. That was certainly the feeling James, a successful businessman-turned-politician, had.

According to the Associated Press, James called a press conference on May 28 to accuse Riley of, among other things, voting to make Internet lotteries legal.

A side note: lotteries are already a touchy matter in Alabama. Now that Riley has won the republication nomination, one of the issues he has sparred with the democratic candidate, Gov. Don Seigelman, about is whether the state should have a lottery to help fund education. Seigelman is pro-lottery, Riley is fervently anti-lottery.

James' insertion of Internet gambling into the race for governor went something like this. Riley had published a campaign pamphlet trumpeting his strict stance against gambling. The pamphlet, which was distributed in many Alabama newspapers, stated that the Goodlatte bill had passed the U.S. House.

Once Riley's campaign acknowledged that the Goodlatte bill hasn't actually passed the House, James used the occasion to point to the bill's carve outs, which, by voting for the bill, Riley had supported.

"Now that Bob Riley has admitted I was right and retracted his own campaign brochure," James said to the Associated Press, "I have a list of other things he needs to tell the truth about. He can start by admitting the bill he co-sponsored in Congress makes Internet lotteries legal."

In response, David Azbell, Riley's campaign spokesman, pointed out that the Christian Coalition had given the Goodlatte bill a thumbs-up and had also given Riley full approval on his voting record.

IGN's phone calls to both James and Riley were not returned.

A problem with Goodlatte's bill, said Joe Kelly, is that without carve outs, it lacks support from lobbying groups and will have difficulty passing. With carve outs, the bill risks offending staunch gambling foes.

Kelly, a professor of business law at the State University of the New York College of Buffalo, said that dilemma was illustrated in Alabama.

"In the unusual situation in Alabama," he said, "by allowing some exemptions, you seem to be supporting legalization of certain Internet gambling, specifically the lottery."

Anne Lindner can be reached at anne@rivercitygroup.com.