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Canadian Authorities Raid Amaya Gaming Offices

In news that broke last night, Forbes.com has reported that the Montreal offices of Amaya Gaming were raided on Wednesday by law enforcement officers and financial regulators. Amaya, once somewhat of an unknown quantity in the poker world, is now best known as the owner of both PokerStars and Full Tilt Poker.

There are not many details as of yet, but according to Nathan Vardi of Forbes, officials from the Autorité des Marchés Financiers (AMF), the Quebec financial markets regulatory body, along with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), showed up at not just Amaya’s offices, but also the offices of Canadian insurance company Manulife Financial and investment bank Canaccord Genuity. There is no word on what exactly was seized in the raid, but it was likely things like computers, documents, and various financial records. A spokesman for the AMF told Forbes that he could not comment on anything yet.

Initial statements given by the affected companies were much of the same. Eric Hollreiser, Head of Corporate Communications for the Rational Group / PokerStars, said, “Amaya is cooperating in an investigation by the Autorité des Marchés financiers (AMF), the securities regulatory authority in the Province of Quebec. It is not appropriate for us to provide any further details at this time.”

Both of the other companies also said they were cooperating with the authorities.

Amaya Gaming has since produced a slightly longer press release, which still doesn’t say much other than the company believes it has done nothing wrong:

To provide clarification on a media report, Amaya Inc. (the “Corporation”) (TSX: AYA) confirmed that the Corporation and its officers are cooperating with the Autorité des marchés financiers, the securities regulatory authority in the Province of Quebec (the “AMF”), in an investigation with regards to trading activities in Amaya securities surrounding the Corporation’s acquisition of Oldford Group in 2014.

To the Corporation’s knowledge, this does not involve any allegations of wrongdoing by the Corporation. Amaya will continue to cooperate, if and as requested, consistent with our practice to always cooperate with regulatory authorities.

The Corporation will continue to monitor the investigation if and as it proceeds. The investigation has had no impact on Amaya’s business operations, employees or companies.

The “trading activities” referenced in the above statement may have to do with the surge Amaya Gaming enjoyed in its stock price in the days leading up to the purchase of the Oldford Group, parent of Rational Group, the company that owns PokerStars and Full Tilt Poker. The purchase was announced exactly six months ago, on June 12th. On June 5th, Amaya’s share price closed at $10.12. A day later, it was $11.17, a huge increase on a percentage basis. It pulled back slightly after that, closing on June 10th at $10.94. The next day, it closed at $12.02, another large gain. Of course, once the deal was announced, the stock price rocketed skyward, eventually closing on June 13th at $19.95.

There had also been a pretty sizable run-up in the stock’s price in the weeks leading up to the announcement. It closed at $7.29 per share on May 14th and rose over the next few days. It got a bump on May 20th after an analyst wrote that the company might be looking to “’trade up’ to a larger platform,” sparking rumors that the larger platform could be PokerStars; the stock closed at $8.42 that day. It kept rising until May 27th, where it temporarily topped out just above $11. tilt-stars

Now, none of this may be of any importance whatsoever, but considering Amaya itself said that the investigation had to do with trading activities relating to the PokerStars purchase, looking at the stock price history can at least be an entertaining exercise. Trading volume didn’t seem to be too unusual; while a bit higher than normal the day before the announcement, Amaya had seen other days this year with similar volume. The huge jump in volume was June 13th, when 9.9 million shares were moved, compared to 937,000 on June 11th and 570,000 on June 12th. I am no financial expert, so all of this may be totally meaningless.

Despite the May rumors that something might happen, the $4.9 billion purchase of PokerStars by Amaya Gaming was still a huge surprise to the gaming industry, mostly because Amaya was so much smaller than PokerStars. There was no way Amaya could afford to make the purchase on its own; Amaya itself was only valued at about $1.3 billion. It had to come up with some creative ways to finance the deal, which was done “through a combination of cash on hand, new debt (and) a private placement of non-voting convertible preferred shares (stock).”

No timetable for the investigation has been announced publicly, nor has there been any promise given for the release of more information. This is certainly an interesting development, one which we will follow closely, particularly as PokerStars continues to try to enter regulated U.S. markets.

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