PokerStars could revive i-gaming in New Jersey, says Senator

By Emma Rumney
PokerStars gaining approval in the US would be the “biggest possible boost” to the New Jersey i-gaming industry, says state Senator Ray Lesniak.

Lesniak, a lead supporter and sponsor of the state’s internet gambling legislation, believes that if the world’s largest online poker room could re-enter the US market and shed its perception as a ‘bad actor’, it could revitalise the state’s stagnating i-gaming industry. New Jersey online gambling revenues have been in decline for the last two reported months.

Lesniak told PokerNews: “I think PokerStars gaining approval would be the best thing to happen to the New Jersey internet gaming industry, the biggest possible boost, because PokerStars has shown to be the biggest and best online poker site.”

PokerStars has the opportunity to redeem itself in the US after its parent company – the Oldford Group – was recently acquired by Canadian supplier the Amaya Gaming Group, making Amaya the largest publicly-traded online gaming company.

While the $4.9bn purchase won’t be finalised until late September as the deal still requires approval from shareholders, PokerStars, their US customer base and politicians like Lesniak are hopeful that the change of ownership will enable the firm to once again operate in regulated US jurisdictions.

This has not been possible since 2011 when the FBI indicted the owners of PokerStars, Full Tilt and Absolute Poker among others for conspiring to break the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act.

The FBI alleged that the defendants had committed fraud, money laundering and bribery in order to accept gambling payments from US citizens.

PokerStars founder Isai Scheinberg remains under indictment but has never had to admit any wrongdoing and continues to contest the charges against him. PokerStars reputation has still suffered however, with the firm considered a ‘bad actor’ in the US.

It was made clear that while Scheinberg remained associated with the company it could not operate in US jurisdictions.

However under the conditions of the Amaya deal Scheinberg and his son will resign from the company and all its subsidiaries and sell their stock in both, wiping the slate clean for PokerStars.

John Pappas, executive director of the Poker Players Alliance (PPA), told Forbes that this was encouraging for the “millions of American players who have anxiously awaited the return of PokerStars to the US”.

He continued: “Amaya’s acquisition should remove any perceived impediment for this popular brand. This is a positive development for poker enthusiasts and the potential return of the PokerStars brand will grow our game.”

Since Amaya announced the purchase last month the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement (DGE) – who had suspended PokerStars’ licence for two years – has reopened licensing talks with the firm’s new owners.

Amaya already has approval to operate in New Jersey as the platform for Caesars interactive.

If all goes well in New Jersey then Delaware and Nevada could be the next stops for PokerStars.

Lesniak said: “This sale is an opportunity to have the licence reviewed and possibly renewed. I would hope it’s only a matter of months away from that decision being made.”

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