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Key online gaming lawmaker Barney Frank announces retirement

WASHINGTON — Massachusetts Rep. Barney Frank, a key proponent in Congress of online gaming, announced plans Monday to retire at the end of his current term.

“There are other things I would like to do with my life,” the 71-year-old lawmaker said at a news conference. He added that his retirement plans were hastened by two years because of reapportionment, which moved 325,000 new constituents into his district.

Frank, the top Democrat on the House Financial Services Committee, sponsored legislation in the past three sessions seeking to legalize online gaming.

Frank Fahrenkopf, president and CEO of the American Gaming Association, said Congress will be losing a tireless advocate for individual rights.

“Barney’s personality and stature brought early attention to the issue of legalizing online gambling, and his tireless defense of online player rights and efforts to protect consumers has been admirable,” Fahrenkopf said.

In 2006, Congress blocked online gaming by restricting electronic transfers of cash between players and gambling websites. Frank introduced legislation the next year to revoke the ban and establish a licensing process for Internet wagering.

Frank reintroduced the bill in 2009, winning approval in his committee but failing to get a floor vote. This year, he teamed up with Rep. John Campbell, R-Calif., to introduce a new version. Rep. Shelley Berkley, D-Nev., is a co-sponsor.

Frank has also teamed up with Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, to argue for online gambling. The pair had urged the defict-reduction supercommittee to consider online gambling as a revenue source.

In Congress, Frank has fought for years to hold down what he viewed as excessive military spending, and said one of his objectives for his final year in office is to make sure the Pentagon shares in any deficit-cutting measures .

Frank is the 17th Democrat to announce he will not seek re-election in 2012, when Democrats face an uphill battle to gain the 25 seats they need to win a majority.

In a written statement, President Barack Obama hailed Frank’s “passion and his quick wit.” He praised his work to expand affordable housing, end discrimination against gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender individuals and enact “the most sweeping financial reform in history, designed to protect consumers and prevent the kind of excessive risk-taking that led to the financial crisis from ever happening again.”

At his news conference, Frank said he intends to remain active on issues he is concerned about, pledging to defend the year-old Dodd-Frank financial regulatory bill that many Republicans want to repeal. “I think I will find my motives less impugned and I will be able to talk more about the merits” once he is no longer a member of Congress, he said.

Frank’s career nearly ran aground because of his personal life.

Two years after a voluntary 1987 disclosure that he is gay, Frank had to explain why he had hired as a personal aide a convicted drug user and male prostitute, Steve Gobie, who also was living in Frank’s apartment. He said he always paid the aide out of personal funds, but the House Ethics Committee recommended Frank be censured for using his congressional status on behalf of the man, including seeking dismissal of 33 parking tickets.

“I should have known better. I do now, but it’s a little too late,” a contrite Frank told the House.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. Contact Stephens Washington Bureau reporter Peter Urban at purban@stephensmedia.com or 202-783-1760.

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