Chris Christie's Troubles Could Roll Downhill To PokerStars

Chris Christie’s Miserable Month Could Further Delay New Jersey Entrance For PokerStars

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How bad has Chris Christie’s February been?

Bad enough that not actually being under federal criminal investigation has arguably been the sole bright spot of a month dominated by unflattering coverage over:

So what does any of this have to do with PokerStars and their oft-delayed entry into New Jersey’s online poker market?

Keeping fuel a reasonable distance from fire

Whatever opinion you might have of PokerStars, it’s tough to dispute that a cloud of controversy lingers over the company in the U.S. thanks to the “Black Friday” indictments of April 2011.

PokerStars quickly settled with the DoJ and admitted no wrongdoing. But criminal charges against (now-former) company executives remain unresolved.

The purchase of PokerStars by Amaya was meant to mitigate or eliminate concerns that lawmakers and regulators in states like New Jersey might have had about licensing PokerStars.

But now that purchase has attracted its own share of (likely-routine but still less-than-optimal) attention from securities regulators in Quebec and the United States.

Add it all up and signing off on PokerStars’ entry into New Jersey may be a political risk that Gov. Christie is less willing to take as long as the prevailing media narrative for his presidential campaign is one of tailspin and turmoil.

Adelson factor magnified?

As Christie battens down the hatches with key voters (this week has already seen him tone down for Iowa and shift to the right on Common Core), one has to imagine that a similar sort of damage control with key donors is taking place behind the scenes.

Sheldon Adelson is one such key donor who, as Alex Altman of TIME recently put it, has “lavished cash on Republican candidates and committees amid his push for a national Internet-gambling ban.”

According to Business Insider, Adelson was in contact with Christie when New Jersey was deciding whether or not to regulate online gambling.

A pledge of support from Adelson would undoubtedly help Christie’s teetering campaign find its footing.

But would giving PokerStars the green light – and thereby bolstering NJ’s online gambling market – diminish Christie’s chances of material support from Adelson, who reportedly referred to PokerStars as “criminals” during a speech at G2E in September 2014?

The appearance of influence

The decision of whether or not to license a given entity for regulated online gambling activity isn’t within the direct purview of Christie. That decision sits with the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement.

But the twisting timeline of PokerStars’ application has led to widespread speculation that Christie has inserted himself into the process:

The Amaya TW petition remains unresolved. Officials from the DGE have been mum on PokerStars since October.

In short: Something unusual happened.

Now, given the size and complexity of the Amaya deal and the nascent, fragile nature of NJ’s online gambling industry, that “something” may well have nothing to do with Christie.

But, while not directly pertaining to regulated online gambling, this quote from Christie mentor and former NJ governor Tom Kean seems salient nonetheless:

“He’s a guy who does like to know everything,” Kean said, speaking generally of Christie’s style. “Of all the governors I’ve worked with, Christie probably wants to have more knowledge of the important things that are going on under him than anyone. He’s not a governor who appoints people and lets them do their job. He likes to be involved.”

That preference, combined with a faltering campaign, may bode poorly for PokerStars’ near-term chances in New Jersey.

Image credit: L.E.MORMILE /

- 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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