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PokerStars’ USA Return Closer to Reality As Amaya Completes Acquisition of Rational Group

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Significant, albeit largely expected, news from the online gambling industry today as Amaya announced the completion of its acquisition of the Rational Group, parent company to PokerStars and Full Tilt Poker.

The announcement comes at the end of a week that saw both regulators that license Rational and Amaya shareholders sign off on the deal.

Get full background on the deal here.

Where the company goes from here

The PPA’s John Pappas told OPR that he was “impressed with how quickly they closed this deal. It speaks to the confidence many have about the future of iGaming and that Amaya Gaming will be a major player in regulated U.S. markets.”

While the focus of PokerStars’ former US customers is no doubt trained primarily on New Jersey and California, the American market for real-money online gambling is one among many areas where Amaya plans to leverage the power of the world’s strongest online poker brand.

As indicated in the investor presentation covering the acquisition, Amaya sees social gaming, sports betting and casino in the global market as more immediate opportunities for the combined company:

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Alex Dreyfus, CEO of Global Poker Index, offered praise and a query: “Mazel toov is appropriate I guess. Great deal, great execution. What else? Question is what next ?”

A similar question was raised by Adam Krejcik of Eilers Research in a comment via email. “What does the future hold for Amaya/Stars – or more concisely what does David Baazov (the new star in iGaming) have planned now? The deal has closed ahead of schedule, Amaya stock is at an all-time high, and we all  know what the pro-forma numbers and valuation looks like.”

“I’m interested to see where they go from here,” Krejcik continued. “Amaya has outlined number of strategic growth areas including: 1) new verticals (casino & sports betting) 2) re-entering the US and 3) social. So where do they focus attention and resources first? Also lots of talk about growth/opportunity for this new entity, but also can’t forget about risks, namely, PokerStars appears to still be generating a meaningful amount of revenues from “grey markets” will they now pull out of some of these markets, what happens to financials then?”

Meet the new Stars, same as the old Stars?

Amaya and Rational have both repeatedly stressed that, save the exit of some key founders, the makeup and operation of Rational post-acquisition will closely mirror the makeup and operation of Rational prior to the acquisition.

“Rational’s success is attributable to the company’s core values of integrity, customer focus, and challenge,” said David Baazov, Chairman and CEO of Amaya. “We intend for Rational to maintain this culture and will support its initiatives to continue growing this world class business.”

Rational Group Founder and CEO Mark Scheinberg echoed Baazov’s sentiments: “While myself and other founders are departing, we are happy to see the business and the brands we have developed, along with the teams behind them, transferred to strong new ownership. I’m confident that Amaya, together with Rational Group’s leadership, will continue to successfully grow the business into the future.”

Many in the industry believe that, far from a threat to the health of PokerStars, Amaya’s acquisition represents an opportunity for PokerStars to grow through channels previously unexplored or unavailable.

That’s the view of PokerTracker’s Steven McLoughlin, who emailed the following reaction to OPR:

“On behalf of the developers of PokerTracker, we are happy to share that we firmly believe the PokerStars brand has been placed in good hands. Amaya under the leadership of David Baazov is positioned to maintain its global position as the 800 pound gorilla of the online poker industry, and remain beloved by players around the world,” McLoughlin wrote.

“Baazov’s relationships are expected to expedite suitability in regulatory regimes that would have proven difficult for the Scheinbergs, we predict that Amaya will become a major player in the state by state expansion of online poker in the USA,” McLoughlin continued.

“PokerTracker is a proud to be a sponsor of the PokerStars European Poker Tour during the transition to Baazov’s leadership, we look forward to continuing our healthy relationship by continuing to provide middleware tools to help keep online poker players active and engaged.”

New Jersey ahoy

The quick closing, in combination with the largely positive indicators coming out of the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement, both strongly suggest that PokerStars re-entry into the NJ market for regulated online gambling is dead on track.

The timeline I had been hearing before today’s news put Stars back in NJ by late fall. But with the acquisition by Amaya now complete and much of the legwork already done, we could be seeing the launch of a PokerStars product in New Jersey by September – October.

Adam Small, co-owner of PocketFives.com, saw positive news for NJ players in the announcement. “The acquisition of PokerStars and Full Tilt Poker by Amaya is great news for poker players in New Jersey. It means that more than likely the top poker company in the world will soon be offering its games there,” Small told me via email.

And, argued Small, that will have a powerful and immediate ripple effect in New Jersey: “This should push other companies to invest more in their offerings in order to keep pace, as PokerStars is known for the industry’s best tournament schedule, customer support team and many other things that appeal to players. I don’t think anyone can say for sure which company will be the market leader in a year or two, but I believe all companies will have to get better at what they do if and when they know that PokerStars is coming to town.”

Deal closes far ahead of schedule

When the planned acquisition was first announced, the target date for closing was set as the end of September.

OPR’s Richard Richardson speculated that the date would come in at least a few weeks earlier than that due to the impending introduction of the UK regulatory regime for online gambling.

PokerStars' USA Return Closer to Reality As Amaya Completes Acquisition of Rational Group
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Chris Grove
- Chris is the publisher of OnlinePokerReport.com. Grove also serves as a consultant to various stakeholders in the regulated market for online gambling in the United States.