Barnett “Barney” Frank is a longtime congressman from Massachusetts, who was known as a strong proponent of online gambling and online poker in particular. He is currently retired from Congress but has left a real impact upon the debate, in spite of not being successful in getting any bills passed to assist the online poker industry and the expansion of online poker in general.
Barney Frank was born in Bayonne, New Jersey, a small city in the New York City area, on March 31, 1940. The grandson of Jewish immigrants from Poland and Russia, his father ran a truck stop in Jersey City.
Barney Frank completed his undergraduate studies at Harvard College, part of Harvard University. His father died during this time, and after taking a year away from his studies to deal with his Dad’s passing, he graduated in 1962.
Around this time, we got a glimpse of Frank’s liberalism when he was visiting a friend in South Carolina and was seen drinking out of the “colored” fountain to show his disapproval of separate fountains.
Frank showed a keen interest in politics that far back as well, in the early ’60s, whereupon the completion of his undergraduate degree, he entered the Ph.D. program at Harvard in the field of government studies. He also went down to Mississippi to volunteer for the Freedom Summer project, which sought to register more African Americans to vote.
Before completing his doctorate, he was lured away from school by then Boston mayor Kevin White’s chief assistant, earning him his first practical experience in the world of politics, which then led to Barney being appointed administrative assistant to then-Congressman Mike Harrington.
This set Frank up for a run for the Massachusetts House of Representatives, and in 1972, at the age of 32, he won his first election. His district bordered Boston’s infamous Combat Zone, particularly well known for its rampant prostitution, and Frank made some real waves when he proposed a bill that was to make prostitution legal in the state but segregate it.
The bill, in spite of having the approval from police, failed to pass, and it probably had little chance of doing so from the outset, but Barney Frank was never to be put off by such things, as if he believed in a cause, he vigorously pursued it politically, regardless of how unpopular or unlikely. He needed to have his say, and he indeed was not afraid to have his say either.
While serving as state representative for 8 years, he obtained a degree in law from Harvard Law School, graduating in 1977, and with that in hand, he was armed for bigger and better things politically.
In 1980 he ran for a seat in the United States House of Representatives, winning both the nomination and the seat by very narrow margins, but he was in. It would be many years before his elections involved any real contest like this again.
With his newly obtained seat in the U.S. House, he got the chance to prove himself to the people, which he did with earnest. Over the next 25 years, he was elected 12 more times and in all but one election he won handily, with over 2/3 of the vote in 11 of the 12 contests.
During the early years of his service in Congress, he was faced with a major scandal, when a former aide, Steve Gobie, accused Frank of hiring him as a male prostitute, leading to the two being in a homosexual relationship for some time.
Gobie had been escorting on the side while living with Frank, and the landlord ended up demanding Frank evict him, which he did, and Gobie saw this as an opportunity to make money by looking for a book deal in his outing of Frank.
Barney Frank did end up being reprimanded for the affair, but it was because he was found to have fixed a number of parking tickets for Gobie, not because of the relationship itself. Frank was outed by all of this though, but none of this slowed down Frank’s popularity with the voters though and he was re-elected by a wide margin.
Rep. Frank was also the first member of Congress to marry someone of the same sex, by virtue of Barney’s marriage to longtime partner James Ready in 2012. Long known for his quick wit and rapid-fire speaking style, he has been named the brainiest and most funny member of the House, as well as being the biggest “workhorse,” and finished second in the category of “most eloquent.”
They don’t have a category for “boldest,” or “most unabashed,” but Barney Frank would certainly be a strong contender for these categories as well.
Rep. Frank’s career in the House is particularly noted for his work on the House Financial Services Committee, particularly in his presiding over the subprime mortgage scandal of a few years ago. He’s also noted for his strong views in favor of civil rights, abortion rights, use of medical marijuana, rehabilitation of criminals, and promotes a very liberal agenda toward all of these issues.
He’s particularly famous though for his work in seeking to advance the fortunes of online gambling. This campaign started with his teaming up with Sen. Ron Paul in 2006 to oppose two proposed house resolutions, the Internet Gambling Prohibition and Enforcement Act, and the Goodlatte-Leach Internet Gambling Prohibition Act, which was around the time that the UIGEA was passed, so there was a trend toward restriction for sure and Frank was spearheading the efforts in the other direction at the time.
The next year, in 2007, he sponsored his first pro online gambling bill to look to restore gambling rights that many had felt were taken away by the passing of the UIGEA. The bill was called the Internet Gambling Regulation and Enforcement Act, which was touted to provide a framework for licensing and regulating online gambling sites, in spite of the fact that this is clearly not under the purview of Congress or the federal government.
However, in this battle, both sides of the debate were claiming jurisdiction over these matters, and the fact that the claims of being able to prohibit gambling at the federal level were offset by claims by Rep. Barney and his cohorts to be able to permit it at least provided some balance.
It may have been an even better strategy though for Barney to focus instead on the practical side of this, or at least focus more on it, as the power to regulate gambling resides firmly in state hands, and isn’t decided at all fundamentally at the federal level.
This sort of got lost in the whole squabble, and what should have been better exposed is the federal governments’ being relegated to intimidation tactics, evident in their first pretending that federal law against online gambling even existed, then pretending that foreign companies, well outside their jurisdiction, would somehow be subject to it.
Frank and Paul got together for another bill in 2008., the Payments and Protection Act, which was a response to the UIGEA as far as it’s trying to go after payment processors involved in “illegal gambling.” Like the first bill though, it really had no chance, yet this side begged to be heard, and Frank and Paul were once again only too glad to speak for it.
Barney Frank was never a gambler, he just disliked people’s rights being trampled on, and it didn’t matter to him whether or not he had a personal interest in the matter, as it never should matter, as he acted upon principles.
Barney Frank’s efforts won him widespread praise among the online poker and gambling community, seen as a champion of the cause, yet it did end up confusing a lot of players for quite a while, in that it was thought by many that federal regulation is somehow necessary or even possible, and while more people today understand that this is a state decided affair, you still hear talk about Frank’s mission to federally regulate gambling.
He’s certainly not to be faulted for that though, and he continued to speak out in favor of permitting gambling and against the government’s efforts to curtail it, through nothing more than intimidation as it turned out.
Not too long ago, states felt threatened to go ahead with online gambling regulation due to threats of federal money being withheld, money they would otherwise we entitled to, and became somewhat reticent anyway.
Of course, there were also the blatant intimidation tactics aimed at the poker rooms themselves, arrogantly indicting foreign nationals and companies, presumably with a view that the whole world is subject to American criminal laws, which is nothing short of preposterous. This did successfully influence some more poker rooms, ones that the UIGEA passing itself didn’t scare away, so it was indeed effective to a degree anyway.
In the end though, it was the poker companies who still maintained a view of entering the regulated U.S. online poker market that played ball, this was the real carrot that was being held in front of their faces, but the perceptions here are not at the federal level, but the state level, as we’re seeing with the so-called reluctance to accept “bad actors,” sites that didn’t get out of the market immediately after the UIGEA.
Barney Frank has described the government’s attack on online poker, particularly with the events of Black Friday, where they went after several very large poker sites, as “protecting the public from the scourge of inside straights.” He also remarked that the government should “go after the people responsible for empty houses, not full houses.”
Rep. Frank around this time put together a third bill, this time with fellow Congressman John Campbell, and the hope was that the recent events of Black Friday would help build more support for it now, but once again it failed to receive adequate support to ever have a chance of being passed. There was never any doubt of this, but this did not discourage Frank from having his say once again.
Barney Frank’s position on online poker is twofold. First, he sees the attempts to prohibit it as “an incredible waste of resources,” resources that could be used for other projects. Second, he genuinely feels that we need regulation here, even though as it turns out, the federal government isn’t in a position to regulate it.
They are in a position to interfere though, clearly, as they have attempted to do so several times in the past, and what we really need to be shooting for is for them to stand down, to quit trying to interfere. We have made some real progress on this front though lately, although opposing voices are still pretty strong.
Thankfully, there has been one voice that has refused to be silent or even to tone it down. Now retired from Congress, Barney Frank may not have accomplished anything concrete in his efforts to promote poker, but he did have his say, and poker players need to at least applaud his courage and resolve in this matter, and we can use more like him for sure.