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Poker Community Reaction to Amaya, PokerStars Deal

It is not easy for something in the poker world to divert attention away from the World Series of Poker, but Amaya Gaming and PokerStars certainly did that last night. After the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006 (UIGEA) and Black Friday three years ago, the $4.9 billion purchase of PokerStars by Amaya might be the third biggest news item in the poker world in the last decade (ok, maybe the UltimateBet/Absolute Poker cheating scandals knock it down to fourth). Regardless of one’s newsworthiness rankings, this is a face melter.  amaya-gaming-logo

As with any big news, reactions are swift and varied. People haven’t had too much time to digest this one yet; in fact, there are likely many people who haven’t even heard about the deal yet, as it was only announced late Thursday night. The Poker Players Alliance (PPA), for one, is thrilled with the developments, seeing the purchase as a way for PokerStars to get back into the U.S. internet poker market. In a press release, PPA’s executive director John Pappas said:

This is encouraging news for millions of American players who have anxiously awaited the return of Pokerstars to the U.S. Amaya’s acquisition should remove any perceived impediment for this popular brand to once again be available to players in regulated jurisdictions. This is a positive development for poker enthusiasts and the potential return of the Pokerstars brand will grow our game. For years, Pokerstars has been a trusted and preferred online poker provider within the player community with more than 90 percent of PPA members indicating they want the opportunity to play on a Pokerstars site or platform.

The majority of the positive reaction essentially echoes Pappas’ sentiments. The one thing that excites poker players is that with Mark Scheinberg and the rest of the Oldford Group (parent company of Rational Group, which owns PokerStars and Full Tilt Poker) principals out of the picture once the sale is made final, the door will open for PokerStars’ re-entry into the United States gaming market. Amaya is already licensed in New Jersey and has a deal with the Golden Nugget in Nevada, so any problems regulators may have had with PokerStars may now be gone with a new, licensed owner.

Others, though, don’t really care all that much about seeing PokerStars in the U.S., as they do not believe it will have much of an effect on the industry in the States. Nevada can barely support the three online poker rooms it has now (though traffic at WSOP.com has jumped during the World Series of Poker) and New Jersey seems to be at about the saturation point, so some believe all PokerStars’ presence would do is slice up the pie further, resulting in poker rooms with less traffic than they have now. A certain amount of competition is good for poker, but too much and you just end up with smaller rooms that have trouble sustaining games.

The biggest negative reactions revolve around a combination of questions about Amaya’s ability to run PokerStars and the exit of the old ownership from a customer’s perspective. Whereas Scheinberg and company’s exodus may very well allow PokerStars to start operating in the U.S., many poker players are worried that without them, it won’t be the same PokerStars anymore. Similarly, Amaya, while it owns the Ongame Network, is not particularly known for its prowess in operating poker rooms, particularly one the size of PokerStars (not to mention Full Tilt Poker). Amaya has focused more on its B2B operations, casino software licensing, and igaming wheeling and dealing than on building a fan-favorite poker site. Plus, the collection of assets that Amaya bought, including PokerStars, Full Tilt, the European Poker Tour and other international tours, so dwarfs the rest of Amaya that poker fans wonder how the new parent will be able to handle everything.

Many players were relieved to read from Amaya that “Rational Group’s executive management team will be retained and online poker services provided by PokerStars and Full Tilt Poker will be unaffected by the Transaction, with players continuing to enjoy uninterrupted access to their gaming experience,” which hopefully means that Amaya will know to just leave well enough alone. But others aren’t so sure, feeling that Amaya won’t be able to help itself and will want to tinker with a good thing.

This has certainly made for quite the interesting end of the week. When the rumors started swirling about Amaya wanting to make a big move and that big move possibly being the acquisition of Stars and friends, I doubted it could happen, particularly because of the massive size difference between the two companies. But Amaya figured out a way to get it done. There are definitely things to be excited about here as well points of worry; let’s all hope that the new steward of PokerStars is a good one.

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