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McCain’s Replacement May Amplify Calls For Federal Sports Betting Bill

Senator John McCain eventually opened up to discussions of regulated sports betting. Now, gambling advocates are wondering if his replacement, Jon Kyl, will follow the same path.

Jon Kyl is known for challenging gambling and sports betting advocates.
John Holden Avatar
5 mins read

Following the death of Senator John McCain on Aug. 25, questions about the future began to arise. The “Maverick” spent decades leaving his mark. His departure from the Senate left a number of subjects up in the air, particularly sports betting.

McCain’s temporary replacement Jon Kyl is largely known for his opposition to gambling. This hot topic was discussed this week on TheLines sports betting podcast. Looking ahead, it could be an interesting next few years in the argument for federal sports betting legislation

John McCain’s views on sports betting

McCain wasn’t an ally for sports betting. In 2001, he introduced the Amateur Sports Integrity Act, which would have made it a violation of Federal law, by amending the Ted Stevens Olympic and Amateur Sports Act, “to gamble on Olympic, college, and high school sports….”

McCain stated:

“Betting on amateur athletics invites public speculation as to the legitimacy of the competition and transforms student athletes into objects to bet upon. Adding unwarranted pressure from corrupting influences to the underlying pressures that these intensively competitive young people already feel is unacceptable.”

McCain hypothesized that the ban on legal wagering on amateur athletics would have a trickle-down effect on the illegal gambling markets as well. McCain’s introduction of the Amateur Sports Integrity Act was met with a stern rebuke by Nevada Senator John Ensign, who challenged McCain’s assertions that expanding the betting prohibition would somehow help make a dent in the illegal market. Ensign went on to rail against the purported concerns of the NCAA stating:

“Last year the NCAA spent only $229,000 of its over $300 million budget on combatting illegal gambling. That’s about three cents for each student attending an NCAA school. In fact, the NCAA spent 40 times more on marketing and promotion, not on the games, but just on the NCAA itself, than on fighting illegal sports betting on college campuses.

It’s time for the NCAA to put its money where its mouth is and show a true commitment to fighting sports betting on college campuses.”

McCain’s 2001 efforts would fail, never becoming law.

A changing opposition

McCain’s position on sports betting would pivot during his later years in the Senate. In 2015, McCain was quoted on the subject by the Las Vegas Review-Journal, stating:

“We need to have a talk with the American people, and we need to probably have hearings in Congress on the whole issue so we can build consensus.”

McCain acknowledged that the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act’s then-present exemption for Nevada raised questions. In an ESPN interview, he stated that: “think that there [are] places for sports gambling in states, where gambling is legal.”

While movement on a bill in 2015 and 2016 stalled in Congress, the subsequent fall of PASPA has raised interest in sports betting from Congress, yet again. Senator Hatch of Utah and Senator Schumer of New York have each individually suggested that Congress examine various aspects of the nascent market opening.

Introducing Jon Kyl

McCain may have come around on sports betting as he spent more time in the Senate. However, his temporary replacement, Jon Kyl, has been one of the largest opponents of wagering in Congress’ recent history. Beginning in 1997, Kyl spent nearly a decade fighting against online gambling.

Kyl was the Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Technology, Terrorism, and Government Information. He opened a March 19, 1997 hearing by stating:

“…unlawful gambling should not be allowed a new place to set up business. It is already illegal to use computer technology for sports betting. We should extend prosecution to blackjack, roulette, poker, and craps that now show up on the Internet.”

In July of the same year Kyl noted:

“Gambling on the Internet is rapidly becoming a big problem. It is a $1 million a year activity that is unregulated and largely illegal if done in other venues. Some experts predict that it will take billions of dollars by the turn of the century.

Historically, states have had the ability to either prohibit gambling or strictly regulate it within their borders. Gambling across state lines is illegal, but the advent of the Internet has created the opportunity to gamble in a manner that is not specifically covered by our laws and the potential for fraud and abuse of Internet gambling is significant.”

Jon Kyl’s anti-gambling arguments

Kyl referenced Hampshire College Professor Robert Goodman, who called the internet “the hardcore crack cocaine of gambling.”

Kyl claimed broad support for his early bills, both in and out of Congress. Many were co-sponsored by Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein. Kyl cited the support of the “Christian coalition and Ralph Nader’s consumer protection group, which probably agree on very little, support this legislation.”

After previous bills had failed, Senator Kyl once again chaired a sports betting hearing on March 23, 1999. This time, he attributed the hardcore cocaine comment to University of Illinois Professor John Kindt.

Kyl would further articulate that online gambling would possibly lead to an increase in criminal behavior:

“Gambling on the Internet is apt to lead to criminal behavior. Indeed, up to 90 percent of pathological gamblers commit crimes to pay off their wagering debts, according to testimony before this committee in 1997.”

Kyl also coined the de facto model of internet gambling ban proponents during this hearing when he created the phrase, “click the mouse, bet the house,” regarding what he perceived as the easiness with which users could wager online.

By 2001, Kyl was attributing the crack cocaine connection to Harvard Medical School’s Dr. Howard Schaffer, who purportedly stated very similarly to Robert Goodman, and John Kindt “As smoking crack cocaine changed the cocaine experience, I think electronics is going to change the way gambling is experienced.”

Continual pushback on online gambling

Kyl continued his fight to ban online gambling in 2003. He argued that the poster child for a need to regulate online gambling was NHL player Jaromir Jagr. Jagr lost more than half a million dollars gambling online. During the same hearing, Kyl reported that 35 percent of online casinos in the USA did not pay winners.

Kyl’s Senate career was marked by his staunch opposition to expanded online wagering. He also strongly opposed expanded sports betting. As Legal Sports Report has previously noted, since his time in the Senate, Kyl has worked as an advisor for one of the NFL’s top law firms. This could possibly have softened his tone on sports betting. It is uncertain if Kyl has played any role in the firm’s business with the NFL.

A look ahead

While Kyl’s tenure is uncertain, it is likely that he will remain until the seat comes up during the 2020 elections, as reported by Vox. Had McCain left the Senate prior to May 30, his seat, along with departing Senator Jeff Flake’s seat, would have both been up for the November elections. However, with the passage of the May deadline, Arizona Governor Doug Ducey was able to appoint a successor until 2020.

It remains unclear what impact, if any, Kyl will have within the Senate halls for some type of sports betting bill. Kyl has a long rap sheet of opposition to expanded sports wagering. He also has a previous working relationship with Senator Hatch on gambling issues. Both were on the Senate Judiciary Committee together. The question that remains is whether Kyl’s views on sports betting have evolved in the same way that John McCain’s did?

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John Holden J.D. / Ph.D. is an academic. His research focuses on policy issues surrounding sports corruption.

View all posts by John Holden

John Holden J.D. / Ph.D. is an academic. His research focuses on policy issues surrounding sports corruption.

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