A Chronology of Headaches for Bob Goodlatte
October 1999 - Rep. Don Young informs the
House Judiciary Committee that he opposes the Rep. Bob Goodlatte's Internet Gambling
Prohibition Act of 1999 because none of its many exemptions cover Indian
gaming. He seeks to have the bill reassigned to the Committee on
Resources, of which he chairs.
November 1999 - The House Crime Subcommittee moves the Goodlatte
bill, but without the full support of the committee's members. The
racing and fantasy sports amendments are heavily debated with no
solution, and the issue of enforceability enters the discussion.
March 2000 - The Christian Coalition expresses its disapproval of
the Goodlatte bill (and its many exemptions) in a letter to Judiciary Committee Chairman Henry Hyde. In it the group's director of
government relations, Jeffery Taylor, criticizes the legislation for
including an exemption for state lotteries and pari-mutuel wagering. The
Family Research Council announces its opposition as well.
April 2000 - Deputy Assistant Attorney General Kevin DiGregory
tells MSNBC, "The (Justice) department does not understand why the
pari-mutuel wagering industry should be allowed to accept bets from
people in their homes, when other forms of gambling have rightly been
prohibited from doing so. The same concerns that we have expressed about
children and compulsive gamblers having unfettered access to gambling
via the Internet is true whether the betting is on horse races or on
May 2000 - The Christian Coalition and Family Research
Council convince Reps. Hyde, McCollum and Goodlatte to support an
amendment that will remove an exemption for state-run lotteries. A group
of GOP lobbyists, including former Illinois Rep. Marty Russo, respond by
voicing their adamant disapproval.
May 2000 - Reps. Leach, LaFalce and Baker introduce the
Internet Gambling Funding Prohibition Act as a companion to Goodlatte's
legislation. The Leach measure eventually evolves into a competing bill.
May 2000 - House Commerce Committee Chairman Thomas J. Bliley
Jr. asks Speaker J. Dennis Hastert to give his panel
jurisdiction over the Goodlatte bill. Bliley's committee argues that the
bill would impose a mandate on ISPs to enforce it.
June 2000 - The Washington Times publishes an article
outlining five reasons why Congress should not legislate Internet
July 2000 - Vice President Al Gore voices his objection to
the Goodlatte/Kyl legislation. Gore's concerns echo those expressed
repeatedly by the Justice Department--that the bill contains loopholes
that could lead to more wagering in the long run.
July 2000 - Assistant Attorney General Robert Raben explains
in a letter to Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert that the Goodlatte
bill would make certain types of gambling legal over the Internet that
are not legal in the physical world. He also suggests that the bill may bring
even murkier enforcement issues in its wake and would be inconsistent
with current federal gambling laws.
July 2000 - The U.S. House votes 245-159 in favor of passing
the Goodlatte bill, however, it needs two-thirds of the vote to pass
because Goodlatte elected to bring up for a vote without debate. Thus,
he fails at his first attempt to pass the bill in the House.
July 2000 - The White House issues a statement reiterating its
opposition to the Goodlatte bill, saying that it "appears to be designed
to protect certain forms of Internet gambling that currently are
illegal, while potentially opening the floodgates for other forms of
August 2000 - Working with the U.S. Department of Justice and
at the behest of the Clinton Administration, Reps. John Conyers and
Chris Cannon introduce a second competing bill. HR 5020 is a straight
amendment to the Wire Act.
October 2000 - Internet auction site eBay expresses its concern
over the Goodlatte bill's burden on ISPs, claiming the bill punishes
ISPs that police their sites for illegal materials. The group proposes a
"Good Samaritan" amendment, which would let Internet service providers
off the hook for removing potentially illegal information from their
December 2000 - After meetings held in Las Vegas, the
American Gaming Association is said to be on the verge of withdrawing
its support for the Goodlatte bill.
December 2000 - Word gets out that Nevada Assemblywoman Merle
Berman is drafting legislation that would legalize and regulate Internet
gambling in her state.
January 2001 - New Jersey Assemblyman Tony Impreveduto
introduces a bill that would allow Atlantic City casinos to operate
June 2001 - Nevada passes a bill legislating the framework
regulating Internet gambling in that state.
July 2001 - A representative from Visa USA tells a U.S. House
Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations that the responsibility for
keeping Americans from participating in Internet gambling shouldn't be
placed on Visa's shoulders.
March 2002 - American Gaming Association President Frank
Fahrenkopf indicates that the association cannot support the current
version of the Goodlatte bill. The AGA does, however, support the Leach
March 2002 - One of the Goodlatte bill's many cosponsors, Jim
Gibbons, R-Nev., asks to have his name taken off the bill. Gibbons says
the decision is based on the Goodlatte bill's change of focus.
May 2002 - Sportingbet Plc, the global sports betting group,
launches a major campaign to promote government
regulation of the online gambling industry and encourages the
government to tax its industry. The company takes out full-page
advertisements in the Washington Post, The Washington Times, The Hill
and Roll Call.
How much more can Bob Goodlatte take?
Year after year--and lately, week after week--the
Virginian Republican comes up to bat in the name of protecting Americans
from themselves, and each time his opponents bring the high heat under
his chin. But remarkably, he keeps getting up, brushing off the dust
and stepping back up to the plate.
For five years he has tried to pass his Internet
gambling prohibition bill, and he's fallen short in a different manner
each time he has a go at it.
Goodlatte's plight is the classic cartoon scenario in
which the animated hard-luck victim de jour is trying to plug holes in a
dam that's about to burst. Each time he plugs a hole, a new hole forms
and water comes gushing out. Last week's hole was opened by Rep. Robert
Wexler, D-Fla, who is calling for exemptions for dog racing and jai
alai. Before that, he found himself patching together language that made
the bill palatable for land-based casinos in an effort the bring the
American Gaming Association, a defected supporter, back on his side.
In case you got into the game late, the routine is
nothing new. It goes like this: Goodlatte brings his prohibition bill to
the table, various gambling lobbies pressure him to start carving out
exemptions, he obliges and the anti-gambling crusaders, whom he
originally sought as supporters, blast him for legalizing various forms
of gambling over the Internet. As soon as he moves a finger to plug a
new hole, water comes hard from the hole he just abandoned. Delicately,
he tries to patch holes in a way that pleases everyone, but he hasn't
found the right combination of patchwork to save the dam. That right
combination, he's slowly learning, may not exist.
He's tried to go with no carve-outs. He's tried to go
with amendments galore. He's tried to bring the bill before the full
House for debate. He's tried to pass it without debate. But every
time he goes for it, he's managed to alienate just enough people to kill
the bill. Then he reverts to the no-exemption approach and we go around
the circle again.
Meanwhile, the Justice Department chimes in from time
to time advising that he'd better figure out a way to enforce the
legislation, at which point the ISPs and financial institutions bounce
the "don't look at me" his way, all the while it becomes more and more
apparent that poor Bob doesn't have many friends when it comes to
And if all that isn't enough of a headache, many of
his former backers have thrown their support behind the Leach bill, a
competing piece of legislation that focuses on blocking Internet
gambling-related financial transactions.
As most people in this industry are aware, it wasn't
Goodlatte who invented the rotating exemption routine. It was perfected
by Arizona Sen. Jon Kyl, the father of the prohibition movement in the
United States, but Kyl managed to escape the insanity. Twice Kyl got his
prohibition bill passed in the Senate, and both times Goodlatte was
unable to move the House version. So Kyl has elected to step out of the
picture and leave the onus on Goodlatte. Before we give Jon Kyl credit
for his achievement, though, let's keep in mind that the situation has
grown increasingly complicated, and Goodlatte faces a much stronger
opposition than Kyl ever did.
Regardless, Kyl is free of the online gambling mess
for now, and you've got to believe he's happy to be out of the
crossfire. Unfortunately for Goodlatte, there is no way out. Goodlatte, for the better part of a decade, has been on a mission to be the recognized Internet expert in Congress. When it's all said and done,
and the U.S. legislature has passed approximately 90,000
Internet-related bills, he wants to be the guy who led the way.
Pulling out and conceding defeat on the Internet
gambling issue could indicate that perhaps he's not the go-to guy after
all when it comes to tech legislation (especially if the Leach bill
passes) and maybe even reveal that he doesn't quite have a grip on the
dynamics of the Internet.
One can only imagine his frustration now that he's
invested too much to turn back. It's become apparent that he'll make
whatever concessions are necessary to gather enough votes to get it
done, yet he still can't win. Every move he makes turns someone against
him. What's worse, he's been left with a piece of legislation that has
There are lessons to be learned here, and ultimately
the ordeal will make Goodlatte a better legislator. This is about biting
off more than you can chew, and it's a shining example of why it doesn't
pay to take the easy road.
"Internet gambling is evil, so let's get rid if it."
It sounded like a slam-dunk, feel-good initiative,
but five years later the notion has proven to be a gross miscalculation.
Goodlatte has special interest groups coming at him from more angles
than he probably thought were mathematically possible. New hurdles are
sprouting like pop-up windows at an adult portal. A project that was to
be a quick check on an impressive list of Internet-related accomplishments
became a living nightmare driven by the conception of an impossible
goal: Draft a gambling prohibition bill that's approved by the casino
industry, the lottery industry, the racing industry, Native American
groups, Internet service providers, family groups and the banking
industry, while preserving states' rights, convincing the Justice
Department that it's enforceable and not violating the First Amendment
of the U.S. Constitution.
He should have waited a few years and boarded the
Ironically, a battle brought about by poor judgment
could earn Goodlatte merit for his remarkable resilience. He keeps
getting punched silly on the House floor, but he comes back every time with a head of steam. Not since Jerry Cooney hung up the
gloves have we seen such an ability to stand in the ring and take a
beating. No matter which side of the debate you're on, there's no
denying that his drive and dedication are admirable.
And fortunately, the nightmare is almost over. In the
near future, he'll either pass the bill or the House will put the
legislation out of its misery. If you listened to last week's House
hearing you would have immediately picked up that his
colleagues, including those among committee leadership, are tired of
dealing with this legislation. They've had about all they can take. And through his words and mannerisms, you can tell that he's had about all he can take as well.
Eventually, the referee has got to get in there and
stop this fight.