New Jersey's Struggling Online Poker Market Hopes To Get PokerStars Boost

PokerStars New Jersey Site Approved By Regulators, Talk Turns To When Online Poker Giant Will Launch In NJ

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Click here for more information on PokerStars’ return to New Jersey.

PokerStars has been cleared to make its long-awaited return to offering real-money online poker in the United States.

That’s after New Jersey regulators approved the partnership between Amaya, parent company of PokerStars, and land-based casino partner, Resorts AC, an approval that clears the way for the world’s largest online poker operator to return to the U.S. online poker market.

The timeline for launch of PokerStars NJ following approval is unclear; it could be weeks or months until we actually see PokerStars poker tournaments and cash games running in New Jersey.

What can we expect from PokerStars NJ?

More than four years since the last poker hand was played on PokerStars in the United States — before 2011’s Black Friday — PokerStars will soon have an online poker room in New Jersey.

While online poker has underwhelmed in the state in terms of revenue generated, some hope that PokerStars’ entrance will re-energize the entire online poker market in New Jersey. It’s expected that PokerStars will compete relatively quickly for considerable market share, and perhaps the No. 1 position, with the current sites in operation — WSOP.com, 888, PartyPoker and Borgata.

Since Amaya now offers online casino games in international markets via PokerStars, it’s possible we will see online slots and table games via the PokerStars client. Resorts currently operates two NJ online casinos, one under its own name and a Mohegan Sun-branded site.

It also appears that we will see the Full Tilt brand — another name that would be familiar to Americans — leveraged in New Jersey for poker and/or online casino, as it was mentioned in a press release from Amaya:

Amaya is currently in an agreement with Resorts Casino Hotel in Atlantic City to provide online poker and casino offerings in New Jersey through the PokerStars and Full Tilt brands

Timeline of PokerStars getting into New Jersey

The journey for PokerStars to get into the New Jersey market has been a long and winding one.

While the law allowing online gambling and poker within New Jersey’s borders was passed in 2013 and the first iGaming sites when live that fall, PokerStars’ efforts actually began in the fall of 2012. The online poker giant hoped to set the stage for a New Jersey launch by purchasing Atlantic City casino The Atlantic Club, a deal that later fell through.

Its current effort to join the market started in July of 2013, when PokerStars announced a partnership with Resorts.

But from the point that the two entities applied for an online gambling license in the state, the effort has been met stops and starts, along with little sense of why the licensing procedure has taken more than two years. Other operators were granted their licenses in short order (at least by comparison).

There was even speculation at one point that Gov. Chris Christie was responsible for the delay.

Throughout 2015, we’ve gotten hints from Amaya CEO David Baazov, lawmakers and other well-placed sources that the license would be granted in the second half of this year.

And now that’s finally happened.

Why the process took so long

PokerStars hinted at why the timeline for a license from the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement has been years in the making in a press release announcing PokerStars’ arrival:

New Jersey gaming regulators have a long history of stringent regulatory oversight and enforcement of gaming operations. The DGE’s review of PokerStars was extremely thorough and exhaustive, including a detailed review of Amaya’s operations and technology, sworn interviews with more than 70 individuals and visits to approximately a half dozen international jurisdictions. This stringent review found PokerStars to be under strong, ethical and trusted ownership and management with Amaya, and worthy of participating in New Jersey’s regulated online gaming market.

It’s unclear if this is the whole story behind the approval process, but it’s clear that the measures noted in the release would have certainly taken some time to complete.

The NJDGE also confirmed to Online Poker Report that the license was granted to Amaya after “an extensive review.” The investigative report into PokerStars’ license application will eventually be made available on the NJDGE website.

PokerStars when NJ started iGaming, and PokerStars now

Online gambling officially went live in New Jersey on November 26, 2013, after a short testing window. A lot has changed for PokerStars since then. For example:

  • Amaya bought PokerStars parent company Rational Group for $5 billion in 2014. It is believed that deal was made to help hasten PokerStars’ entrance in New Jersey and other regulated markets; Amaya was already a licensed platform and content supplier in New Jersey.
  • PokerStars launched Spin N’ Go tournaments, a product that has single-handedly reshaped the online poker industry.
  • Amaya started offering online casino and sports betting via PokerStars last year, the first expansion of the brand beyond the core poker product.
  • This year, PokerStars made its first foray into daily fantasy sports, buying a site called Victiv, and rebranding it as StarsDraft. So, technically, PokerStars was already back in the U.S., albeit in an unregulated industry.

Where the market stands, before PokerStars

PokerStars is entering an online poker market with several established operators, although that market has also continued to fail to live up to expectations.

Here are the online poker rooms already operating in New Jersey:

Those networks enjoy roughly a 50-50 split of the market share now.

Problems with payment processing and New Jersey’s relatively small population remain deterrents to growth and the possibility of multiple operators being able to both survive and thrive in the state, issues that PokerStars is hoping its brand can help overcome.

Despite online poker failing to deliver so far, online casino continues to grow in New Jersey, and does not seem to have yet found a saturation point.

Photo by uzi978 used under license CC BY 2.0

- Dustin Gouker has been a sports journalist for more than 15 years, working as a reporter, editor and designer -- including stops at The Washington Post and the D.C. Examiner. He has played poker recreationally for his entire adult life and has written about poker since 2008.
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