PokerStars Licensing, Launch Timelines in New Jersey Could Be Brief

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Should Amaya Gaming complete its proposed purchase of PokerStars by the target closing date of September 30th, online poker players in New Jersey could be signing up and logging on before the trees have lost their leaves.

Much of the groundwork already complete

All of the entities involved in bringing PokerStars online in New Jersey – PokerStars, Amaya and Resorts – have already been vetted (to varying degrees) by the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement.

The DGE was months into their look at PokerStars before pausing the company’s application in December of 2013. When asked to provide insight into how far the technical component of that investigation had progressed, a representative from the DGE said the following via email:

While we can not comment on the details of the Division’s previous technical investigation of the PokerStars platform during Rational Group’s licensing review, Division engineers and technicians have commented that it appears to be a technically strong platform.  Now the DGE lab’s investigation will continue as we ensure the platform is adapted to comply with New Jersey’s regulations.

Amaya is already authorized by the DGE to do business with a handful of iGaming operators in New Jersey.

And PokerStars’ casino partner Resorts is set to move immediately should the DGE greenlight PokerStars and Amaya’s deal, as Resorts acquired an Internet Gaming Permit from the DGE several months ago.

Positive public indications from the DGE

DGE Director David Rebuck has been clear from the word go regarding PokerStars’ biggest hurdle to licensure: The continued involvement of founder Isai Scheinberg, who faces unresolved charges in the United States.

Given that the deal between Amaya and Rational results in the divestiture of Isai and son Mark Scheinberg – who was not named in the Black Friday indictments – that primary obstacle will be removed.

In the immediate aftermath of the sale announcement, Rebuck said the DGE was “encouraged” by the news and “the expanded opportunities it might provide” for New Jersey’s iGaming market.

According to the AP, the DGE has already started their review of the acquisition. The Press of Atlantic City recently reported that Rebuck is “optimistic Amaya could get approval for PokerStars by the fall.”

PokerStars’ original license application out of the picture

It’s worth noting that the DGE is not technically re-starting PokerStars’ application. Instead, that application is essentially subsumed by Amaya’s continuing process with the DGE. As explained by a representative from the DGE:

There is not a separate track between Amaya and PokerStars. The Division of Gaming Enforcement licensing process consists of both business suitability and technical product investigations.  Amaya Gaming Group already has a transactional waiver issued by the Division in November of 2013.

Under the Act, the Division has the authority to issue transactional waivers to Internet gaming companies that have submitted a completed CSIE application and have been subject to preliminary investigation. The PokerStars acquisition becomes part of the ongoing Amaya licensing process and is reviewed for suitability by the Division like any other significant transaction by a CSIE or Casino Entity licensee.

What role will critics of PokerStars play?

One open question is how companies that have historically opposed PokerStars’ entry into New Jersey will react to this reboot of PokerStars’ suitability hopes.

When PokerStars attempted to purchase the Atlantic Club in early 2013, the American Gaming Association issued a blistering brief calling on regulators to reject PokerStars.

This time around, other New Jersey operators have been relatively mum on the deal – so far. 888 CEO Brian Mattingley recently opined that letting PokerStars in would “benefit everybody.” Golden Nugget’s Thomas Winter called for a “cool-off period” that would keep PokerStars out of the state.

Caesars’ Mitch Garber offered the following thoughts to Howard Stutz:

“We don’t yet know all the details of the transaction, but today we wouldn’t comment other than to reiterate our prior position that regulators and lawmakers have become increasingly sophisticated in understanding online businesses, their history and other elements that contribute to the highest standards of suitability and probity,” Garber said in an email. “To the extent that regulators or lawmakers seek our opinion or contribution, we will deal with them confidentially.”

Garber’s use of “confidentially” suggests that we’re unlikely to see a redux of the nasty public spat that surrounded the ACC purchase attempt.

- Chris is the publisher of Grove also serves as a consultant to various stakeholders in the regulated market for online gambling in the United States.
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