The fate of PokerStars’ attempt to purchase a New Jersey casino and eventually enter the U.S. online poker market will be decided in August.
The top poker site’s parent company, Rational Group, began negotiations to acquire the Atlantic Club Hotel and Casino last December. In filing an application for a casino license, New Jersey gaming officials discovered that PokerStars’ application was incomplete. The Rational Group was instructed to fill out the form properly and re-submit the application.
The state Division of Gaming Enforcement (DGE) has announced that PokerStars has complied with that request and the application has been deemed complete as of the 10th of April. That starts the clock ticking on a 90-day investigation period by New Jersey gaming regulators, who have until July 9 to file a report with the New Jersey Casino Control Commission. Another 30 days are allowed for the commission to conduct a hearing and decide whether PokerStars is suitable to own and operate a casino in the state.
PokerStars’ desire to purchase the Atlantic Club is seen as a way for the company to enter the U.S. Internet poker market that will likely be launching in a matter of months. Nevada is expected to be the first state to have online poker sites up and running, with New Jersey and Delaware not far behind with online gambling offerings of their own. A number of other states are considering online gambling legislation as well and the odds that some will be online in 2014 are quite good.
As most are aware, the American Gaming Association (AGA) has filed a petition opposing PokerStars’ attempt to acquire the struggling casino. The AGA cites PokerStars’ continued service in the American marketplace following enactment of the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act in 2006. The strongly-worded petition accuses PokerStars of building its dominance in the online poker industry through deceit and chicanery, branding the company as unsuitable for a newly-regulated U.S. market.
PokerStars answered the petition with claims that the AGA has no right to intervene and is merely attempting to create a marketplace that is anti-competitive. The commission’s docket for a meeting in March included the issue of whether the AGA’s petition would be considered in making a decision, but the matter was pulled from the agenda when gaming officials decided that more time would be needed to consider the merits of the AGA’s accusations.
PokerStars is one of 14 companies that have applied to participate in Delaware’s online gambling scheme. The world’s top site could not apply in Nevada due to that state’s bad actor legislation that prevents UIGEA violaters from being approved for an interactive gaming license until 2018. PokerStars can elect to fight their bad actor designation in court in the Silver State since last year’s purchase of Full Tilt included language agreed to by the DoJ stating that PokerStars admitted no wrongdoing and could hold a license in the U.S. where it is legal to do so. But the easier option would be to enter the U.S. market as an Atlantic City casino owner.
New Jersey’s initial draft of its Internet gambling legislation included a bad actor provision. The language was removed from the bill that was signed by Governor Chris Christie in February. The bill’s main sponsor, Sen. Ray Lesniak, has approved of PokerStars’ purchase of the Atlantic Club and has welcomed their inclusion with open arms. Odds are that the Casino Control Commission will also approve of the PokerStars acquisition in order to revitalize the state’s falling Atlantic City casino revenues. Stay tuned, as we will know for sure in August.