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Has Senator Jon Kyl Changed His Mind?

Jon Kyl

Jon Kyl, the second-ranking Republican in the Senate, provided hope for the future of online poker legislation in February when he announced he would retire when his term ends at the end of next year.

Kyl is the longest and most persistent opponent of Internet gambling on Capitol Hill. He began pushing for legislation to prohibit Internet gambling in 1998, finally settling for the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act in 2006. When the Treasury delayed implementation of UIGEA regulations, Kyl forced the Treasury to let them go through by blocking President Obama's Treasury nominations. Most recently, Kyl made sure that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid was unable to attach poker legislation to any must-pass bill during last year's lame-duck session.

It makes sense that Kyl's retirement would make legislation to license and regulate Internet poker more likely in 2013 and beyond, once he is gone. However, until then, he would be even more steadfast in his opposition, making poker legislation extremely difficult to pass over the next year and a half.

But there's a new line of thinking that Kyl is interested in strengthening the UIGEA before he leaves office, and that might be willing to allow online poker licensing in a compromise to strengthen prohibitions against other forms of Internet gambling.

In the last couple months, words attributed to Kyl on his official website were added that appear to back up that possibility. The text reads: "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."

Perhaps it's just lip service, but Kyl doesn't need to appease anyone with words, especially when he isn't seeking re-election anyway.

"I think it is encouraging," said John Pappas, executive director of the Poker Players Alliance. "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."

Al D'Amato, chairman of the PPA, served with Kyl as Republican members of the Senate when D'Amato was a senator for New York. The two maintain a good relationship, and D'Amato met with Kyl in his office near the end of last year to try to convince him to support poker legislation that strengthens bans on other forms of Internet gambling.

That discussion didn't convince Kyl to support Reid's proposal last year, but perhaps the argument marinated with him over time. A future bill with the backing of Reid and Kyl would have a great chance for bipartisan support.

"There's no one meeting that will change someone's decision," Pappas said. "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."

It is clear now, in the aftermath of Black Friday, that it's not in the best interests of poker players to wait for Kyl to leave office. As the recent Maryland domain name and bank seizures showed, things will continue to get worse for the Internet poker landscape until licensing and regulation is in place.

"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."

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*Photo courtesy of New York Daily News

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