It is no secret in the poker community that Senator Jon Kyl, R-AZ, the second-ranking Republican in the Senate, is no friend of poker players or the online poker industry. Kyl has notoriously led the fight against Internet gambling on Capitol Hill, but now he seems to be back peddling on his opposition to-online poker.
The Beginning of Kyl’s Vendetta Against Online Poker
Senator Kyl started his anti-gambling campaign back in 1998 when he started pushing for legislation to prohibit Internet gambling. In 2006, he saw a way to make his dreams of banning internet gambling come true when he partnered with Senators Bill Frist and Jim Leach. Together they successfully attached the Unlawful Internet Gambling Reinforcement Act (UIGEA) to the Safe Port Act in the last hours of a Senate session. Kyl and his cohorts snuck in the UIGEA, confident that in the wake of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, that Congress would never vote against port safety just to take a stand on internet gambling rights. Of course he was right and the UIGEA was entered into the law books.
Just before the December 1st, 2009 compliance deadline, the UIGEA regulations were delayed for six months at the hands of Secretary of the Treasury Timothy Geithner and Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke. This action saw Kyl striking back. Knowing that President Obama’s six Treasury department nominees for key positions required Congressional approval, Kyl wielded his power by blocking all six nominees from proceeding to a vote. According to the Center for American Progress Action Fund and confirmed by one of Kyl’s aides; his decision to block the nominees was in protest to the UIGEA postponement. Thus, key figures in charge of assisting with U.S. tax policy and international finance decisions could not be voted into those positions. It is clear that Kyl’s action of blocking the nominees was simply his way of forcing the Treasury Department to not delay the enforcement of his pet project - the UIGEA.
Efforts to Repeal the UIGEA
Kyl has continued his fight to keep citizens of the US from being to able gamble online, including playing poker, by opposing all efforts to repeal the UIGEA. Over the years, he has tried to quash all valiant efforts by Rep. Barney Frank and others who have introduced pro-gaming legislation to make playing poker online legal. Kyl’s most recent move was making sure that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid failed in his bid to attach poker legislation to any must-pass bill during last year's lame-duck session.
Hope for Online Poker Legalization
The only hope poker players had was that Kyl announced he would be leaving the senate chamber in 2012, thereby silencing his anti-gambling voice. But in the aftermath of Black Friday, it is clear that poker players shouldn’t have to wait until 2013 when Kyl is gone because things can only get worse for online poker until the industry is licensed and regulated. Recently however a ray of new hope has broken through the dark clouds, which is welcoming news for poker players who are anxious to get back to grinding online. Kyl just may be doing a little back peddling on his anti-gambling stance and be looking to shore up the UIGEA before he leaves office. The hope is that he may be open to allow online poker licensing, which may be his way of compromising in his bid to strickly prohibit all other forms of Internet gambling. On Kyl’s official website this statement was posted:
"Efforts to carve out an exception for games like poker, which many believe is a game of skill, may be considered later this year. Until I have the chance to review them, I cannot make a judgment about their merits; but I will consider them carefully as long as they leave in place the broader proscriptions against online betting."
Reaction from the PPA
In response to Kyl’s statement, John Pappas, executive director of the Poker Players Alliance said "I think it is encouraging," and added, "I don't think those things appear on someone's website by accident. It's a deliberate action by him to demonstrate a willingness to have a different look at poker. It's something we always felt was going to be the case with Sen. Kyl. We thought he could be convinced to view poker differently because of it being a game of skill and because of it being an activity millions of Americans engaged in. Obviously, there are political pressures and policy reasons for regulating Internet poker that have crept somewhat into his consciousness, and hopefully he'll be willing to accept some form of legislation this year."
Commenting on a meeting between then New York Senator Al D'Amato and Kyl last year where D'Amato urged to support poker legislation, Pappas said, "There's no one meeting that will change someone's decision, it's an evolution, a process. I think Sen. Kyl perhaps is on that evolutionary path and may evolve into a position where he supports a regulatory bill."
Regarding the recent Black Friday upheaval; "I think (the DOJ action in Maryland) is a clear indication that this isn't over," Pappas said. "I think we will probably see other state district attorneys seek to do the same thing. Many people think this is a good way to make a name for themselves and get some forfeiture funds for their coffers. I don't think this is the end of it."
For poker players waiting for the online poker issue to be resolved with much needed regulation and legalization; if Kyl does reverse his stance regarding online poker, it will be a welcome ray of sunshine peeking through the dark clouds that cast a pall over online poker caused by the actions of the DOJ on Black Friday. There are at least 50,000 poker players in the USA, and all they want is the freedom to get back to work - grinding at the online poker tables.