New Jersey

NJ State Senator Lesniak Predicts March PokerStars Launch

Democratic New Jersey State Senator Raymond Lesniak is not one to hide his feelings. And he doesn’t just air his laundry behind closed doors. Oh, no. He takes to Twitter to let the public know how he feels. The latest from Senator Lesniak: PokerStars will be entering the New Jersey market in a couple months.

Now, please do not take what Senator Lesniak says as the gospel, as he was a bit hasty in his prediction last year, but it is certainly interesting to hear from someone who is more in the know than the vast majority of us. On Friday, David Payne Purdum, a gambling writer for ESPN, tweeted about the expedition of the New Jersey sports betting case by the Third Circuit Court of Appeals, invoking Senator Lesniak’s Twitter handle, “@SenatorLesniak.”

Lesniak responded and, in the same conversation, Online Poker Report’s Chris Grove asked him how PokerStars’ progress in getting an online gambling operating license in New Jersey was going. Lesniak’s brief reply is an attention grabber: “March 2015.”

Poker players in the Garden State have been waiting impatiently for PokerStars to be permitted entry into the market. The Party Borgata Network and the now-larger All American Poker Network aren’t bad, but PokerStars is the most respected online poker site in the world (even if its image has been tarnished a bit over the last few months as the result of some customer-unfriendly moves). People in the United States used to love to play on PokerStars and

New Jersey State Senator Raymond Lesniak (c) @SenatorLesniak

New Jersey State Senator Raymond Lesniak
(c) @SenatorLesniak

are itching to do so again. It is thought that if Stars were to gain access to the New Jersey market a couple things would/could happen: a) the overall player pool in New Jersey would actually grow, as players who were hesitant to get onboard would be drawn to the Pokerstars name, and b) existing poker rooms would have to improve and/or offer some great promotions to compete with the giant. Both of these things would be good for players.

In September 2014, Senator Lesniak gave a similar prediction, tweeting, “@PokerStars launch will spark an AC revival. Stay tuned for a major announcement…”

Chris Grove was on top of it again, asking for how long people should stay tuned, to which Lesniak replied, “not long, weeks not months.”

He also implied that New Jersey would soon allow its online poker rooms to accept customers from Europe, something that would obviously have the potential to greatly increase the traffic at the virtual tables. Of course, PokerStars has yet to launch a site in New Jersey and the state is still ring fenced, only permitting people within state borders to play on Atlantic City-based sites.

PokerStars has been trying to get back into the United States for a while. It looked like it was going to buy the now-closed Atlantic Club in Atlantic City in late 2012, but by early 2013, that deal was dead. Then, in July 2013, PokerStars teamed up with the Resorts casino to offering internet gaming, but the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement (DGE) suspended its license application in December of that year. Things looked to turn around this past summer when Amaya Gaming purchased PokerStars. Because the sale meant that PokerStars’ old executives – namely founder Isai Scheinberg – would be gone, the DGE was willing to open up PokerStars’ application again (technically, PokerStars became part of Amaya Gaming’s ongoing licensing process, but that is not really an important detail to this discussion). With Amaya already holding a “transactional waiver” and apparently in the good graces of the DGE, it looked like smooth sailing for PokerStars, but nothing has happened yet.

Senator Lesniak appears to put the blame squarely on New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and his political wrangling. In the Twitter discussion, someone asked him if the delay in getting PokerStars licensed was “all about Christie seeking Adelson’s favor,” to which Lesniak responded, simply, “Ah, Yeah!”

He later added a reason for his confidence that PokerStars will finally get started in New Jersey, saying, “Adelson’s play to ban eGaming in Congress is dead and Poker Stars new ownership too formidable to deny.”

As we are all too aware, Sheldon Adelson, CEO of the Las Vegas Sands Corp., is one of the most formidable Republican political donors in the country. Chris Christie may have 2016 presidential aspirations. Adelson is online poker’s biggest enemy in the U.S., so currying his favor and scuttling a bid by the world’s largest online poker operator to get into the States may please the man. At the same time, though, this theory of Christie scratching Adelson’s back might not fly, as it would be very risky for Christie to possibly hurt Atlantic City and his state’s gaming industry just to get a check from a rich donor.

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