You remember the SAFE Port Act, don’t you? That so-called “must pass” legislation that the 109th Congress swiftly passed in the dead of night some two weeks before Bush signed it into law. It was the last evening of “work” before Congress would adjourn to concentrate on the 2006 elections. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN) -- since retired -- managed to have the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006 appended to the SAFE Port Act as “Title VIII.”
Thus ensued all sorts of applesauce in the wake of the UIGEA’s passage, including the exit of several popular online poker rooms such as Party Poker, Pacific Poker, and bwin from the U.S. market. Firepay (a much-used third party vendor) would quickly shut off American customers as well, followed by Neteller in January 2007.
What would’ve happened had Frist not surreptitiously snuck the UIGEA -- the latest in nearly a decade’s worth of efforts to pass some sort of anti-online gambling legislation -- onto the SAFE Port Act and gotten the sucker made law while the world slept that autumn Friday night?
For one, some of those self-appointed guardians of American morality who’ve gotten themselves elected to congressional positions would’ve certainly continued the fight to stop the online gambling scourge.
How successful might they have been? Hard to say.
The 2006 elections resulted in more Democrats sitting in congressional seats, which may well have reduced the likelihood of any UIGEA-like legislation getting passed. In the House, what had been a 232-202-1 advantage for the Republicans became a 233-202 advantage for the Dems. In the Senate, what had been a 55-44-1 advantage for the Republicans became a 49-49-2 tie. Some in the poker world have attributed the Democrats’ success in the 2006 elections to backlash against the UIGEA, and while a couple of House seats may have been affected, I tend to believe that idea has been overstated.
One wonders also whether the Poker Players Alliance would’ve established itself as a legitimate lobbying organization had the UIGEA not been signed into law. At the time, the PPA had been in existence about six months or so (I believe), though had less than 100,000 members on the day Bush signed the SAFE Port Act. (The organization now boasts over a million members.)
It is probably safe to assume that Party Poker and the other sites would’ve continued to take U.S. bets had the UIGEA not been made law. Neteller may still have left us, as its troubles were in fact related to sports betting and the Wire Act and not the UIGEA specifically. However, other third party vendors would’ve surely been more ready to occupy Neteller’s place had the UIGEA not been around as a discouragement.
What else might have been different? Probably not too much, other than the obvious fact that we wouldn’t have had all of these bills introduced designed to counter the UIGEA’s effects (a lot of legislative energy expended there that might’ve been better spent elsewhere, no?). The regulations for the UIGEA have still yet to be finalized, and it frankly does not appear as though that will happen anytime soon. Thus the law -- technically in effect for two years now -- has not been enforced a single time.
What about the SAFE Port Act? At least our ports are safe, right?
I have no idea, frankly. Well out of my field of expertise, that. I do know that in a six-month review of the Act, Rep. Bennie G. Thompson (D-MS) noted how several of its provisions had yet to be realized, and cited problems with the Department of Homeland Security’s lack of oversight.
I’m also aware that not all of the Act’s provisions have been implemented. One such provision was to require the scanning of containers for radiation (detailed here). Such scanning should also detect “nuclear and radiological material.” A subsequent act, called the “9/11 Commission Act of 2007,” has further directives regarding the mandate to scan all incoming containers arriving at our nation’s ports.
Many have criticized the notion that the ports are the best place to be watching for potential WMD’s -- such detection needs to occur much sooner, obviously. Another problem with the SAFE Port Act that noted by some commentators is the fact that the scanning machines described by the Act (and in the 9/11 Commission Act of 2007) simply do not exist. They do have machines to detect radiation, but nothing to detect enriched uranium. In other words -- sort of like the UIGEA -- the SAFE Port Act apparently contains directives that simply cannot be enforced.
To be fair, the SAFE Port Act has -- according to some, anyway -- apparently done some good. But as far as Title VIII goes, it ain’t done nothin’ beyond creatin’ headaches and a buncha ill will.
Here’s hoping that by the time we reach the third anniversary of this sucker we aren’t griping over the UIGEA anymore.