Jon Kyl, Longtime Online Gambling Foe, Replaces John McCain in US Senate

Posted on: September 5, 2018, 11:00h. 

Last updated on: September 5, 2018, 10:43h.

Arizona’s Republican Governor Doug Ducey announced Tuesday he has chosen former US Senator Jon Kyl to take the late John McCain’s seat in the Senate.

Jon Kyl
He’s Back! Jon Kyl was the scourge of the online gambling industry from its infancy in the late 1990s until his retirement in 2013. Will he use his congressional comeback to take on sports betting? (Image: J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

The appointment returns to Congress one of the most tireless legislators against online gambling since the dawn of the industry at a crucial time for sports betting regulation in the US.

Kyl, 76, officially retired in 2013 after almost 15 years of drafting legislation — often unsuccessfully — to prohibit or restrict remote gaming.

In the late 1990s, with then-US Representative Bob Goodlatte, he introduced a bill that proposed a federal ban, with a carve-out for horse and dog racing and state lotteries. The bill failed when it was pointed out that it would inadvertently authorize state lotteries to offer the kind of games it was trying to prevent.

Kyl got his revenge in 2006, when he co-sponsored a bill, authored by Jim Leach, called the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act. UIGEA sought to prohibit banks, fintech companies and other financial institutions from processing transactions related to online gambling for US residents.

Kyl’s UIGEA Triumph

On the final day of the 2006 legislative session, the bill was tagged onto to the larger Safe Ports Act, an unrelated, non-controversial piece of legislation that outlined measures to increase security at US ports.

According to Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.), no one on the Senate–House Conference Committee had seen the final language of UIGEA before it was passed. The influential Kyl was credited with railroading UIGEA through the Senate.

UIGEA ultimately killed the thriving online poker industry in the US, driving out PartyPoker and leading, five years later, to the prosecution of PokerStars, Full Tilt, and CEREUS executives.

In 2012, Kyl had a change of heart about online poker and, with then-Democratic Senate Majority Leader and former Nevada Gaming Commission chairman Harry Reid, introduced legislation that would outlaw online gaming, while providing a carve-out for poker. The Kyl-Reid bill was unsuccessful.

Links to Sports Leagues

While Kyl is unlikely to have been pleased about the striking down of PASPA by the Supreme Court — a decision that paved the way for state sanctioned sports betting — he probably won’t use his comeback to try to ban it again. For a start, Kyl has said his return will be brief and he will not seek reelection in 2020.

But he might add his voice to the push to regulate sports betting federally, which is being led by Senators Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and Chuck Schumer (D-New York). That’s an option the leagues prefer because it will afford them the best chance of imposing their own terms and best interests on the industry.

Legal Sports Report notes that Kyl is an advisor for the law firm Covington & Burling, which has represented many of the professional sports leagues over the years.

The leagues have swallowed their longstanding distaste for sports betting and are now lobbying for their own interests, but could this old anti-gambling campaigner bring himself do the same?