Oh wonderful. Look who’s back. On Monday, Jon Kyl, one of the men responsible for the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006 (UIGEA), was named by Arizona Governor Doug Ducey as replacement for the late John McCain in the Senate. There isn’t anything going on in the Senate when it comes to online poker, but it is not pleasant to see one of online poker’s top opponents – and an overall despicable lawmaker – trolling the halls of Congress once again.
Senate terms run six years and McCain’s seat was not up for re-election until 2022. Fortunately, Kyl has said that he will not be seeking re-election (or at least he says that for now), opting to just serve as McCain’s substitute. And, assuming Kyl sticks to his current word, he won’t even be in the seat for the full term. Arizona states that there must be a special election in 2020 to fill the final two years of McCain’s term.
Jon Kyl and the UIGEA
Jon Kyl has had been an enemy of online gambling long before the UIGEA, when internet poker was barely a thing. In the late 1990’s, he, along with fellow shitbag Rep. Bob Goodlatte, penned legislation that would ban online gambling except for horse and dog racing and state lotteries. You know, the good kind of gambling. It wasn’t passed not so much because lawmakers didn’t want to see online gambling made illegal, but because it wasn’t strong enough to stop it. Specifically, it was thought to open the door for state lotteries to offer games that were similar to things like online slots.
The two men finally got their anti-online poker agenda through in 2006, authoring the UIGEA with Sen. Bill Frist and Rep. Jim Leach. The bill may have passed via more honest means, but we will never know, as Kyl and his cronies sneakily attached it to the SAFE (Security and Accountability For Every) Port Act, the very definition of a “must pass” bill. There was absolutely no way Congress wouldn’t pass a security bill and though a few legislators voiced their objections, they knew there was nothing they could do about it. The UIGEA was never even discussed or debated.
His Way or the Highway
The UIGEA, which outlawed the flow of money to and from “illegal” gambling sites, was seen as a flawed piece of legislation, largely because it didn’t define what “illegal gambling” was. After the UIGEA was passed, many online poker rooms stopped accepting U.S. customers, but others, like PokerStars, kept on going, as online poker was not explicitly illegal.
Because of the uncertainty of the UIGEA, the publication of the law’s regulations and, in turn, their enforcement, was delayed all the way until mid-2010. Many Congresspeople wanted time to craft better legislation and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner allowed it, but Kyl made a power play, saying he would block a number of President Obama’s Treasury Department nominees until the UIGEA was enforced.
Oddly, after the Department of Justice clarified in late 2011 that the Wire Act applied only to sports betting and that states could legalize online gambling, Kyl began working with Senator Harry Reid on a bill that would actually legalize online poker. While on the surface, that seemed great, the bill criminalized the playing of poker on unlicensed sites. Players could actually go to jail for it. In a later version, this was removed, but a clause was added that would have allowed the government to confiscate player funds if transfers were made to and/or from unlicensed poker sites. The bill didn’t make it very far.
Lead photo credit: Gage Skidmore via Flickr