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Amaya CEO Says PokerStars Coming to New Jersey in Fall

Oh, PokerStars, our Lord and Savior. We here in the United States of America have been looking to you to save online poker in our great nation ever since you left us after Black Friday. A great nation, yes, but a nation starved for the game we love. And you, PokerStars, are supposed to save us. You are supposed to make your triumphant return to the U-S-of-A and resurrect the poker industry. We thought it was going to happen a long time ago, but it didn’t. We again thought it was going to happen, but it didn’t. But now, NOW, if what your leader says is true, you might finally be returning to us this year.

In this week’s earnings call, Amaya Gaming CEO David Baazov said that a PokerStars entry into New Jersey is “coming” and that he “would expect” it to be in the fall of this year. Of course, this is not the first time we have believed a PokerStars U.S. launch is imminent, but coming from the big boss, there is likely significantly more weight to the expectation.

Welcome to New JerseyCurrently, the New Jersey online poker market is dominated by two networks: the Party Borgata Network and the recently merged and 888poker sites. As much as we generally want competition in virtually any industry, the lack of competition is not necessarily a problem. Even as the eleventh largest state (population estimate is about nine million), New Jersey has not seen a very impressive turnout for legalized, regulated online poker. According to, the WSOP/888 network has a seven-day average of 190 cash game players and the Party Borgata Network has been drawing an average of 150 players. Those numbers only get them into the top 40 networks and sites in the world. Adding another room could actually just divide the market further.

The hope with PokerStars is that it will instantly boost the credibility of the online poker market in New Jersey and, perhaps, the United States. Certainly, has a recognizable brand name, but I would argue that to the casual player and even the non-poker player, PokerStars is even more recognizable. And those Americans who have played online poker know that, by and large, PokerStars has historically run a tight ship and has had the best interests of its players in mind, so again, New Jersey’s credibility rises.*

With all of that, the idea (or, again, hope) is that even at the risk of fragmenting the market, the addition of PokerStars would actually grow the New Jersey online poker market. When potential poker players who have been sitting on the sidelines see that PokerStars is now in the mix, they may jump into the pool. Those that used to play on Stars but have been shut out may be very eager to get back in the action.

Additionally, and now I’m just riffing at this point, if all of the above happens and things go swimmingly, it may serve as a signal to other states to get their shit together and pass some legislation without “bad actor” clauses.

As has been mentioned, there have been instances in the past when it appeared that PokerStars was going to launch in New Jersey, but roadblocks kept getting in the way. In January 2013, for instance, PokerStars agreed to buy the floundering Atlantic Club casino in Atlantic City for $11 million, but that fell through a few months later. That would have been an important deal because the brick-and-mortar casinos are the ones who can be licensed to offer internet gambling – software providers must partner with them rather than standing alone – so PokerStars would have had its entry into the market right there, pending the approval of its license. After the deal evaporated, PokerStars had inked a partnership agreement with Resorts and began the licensing application process, but the New Jersey Department of Gaming Enforcement put it on hold in December 2013 out of concerns for owner Isai Scheinberg’s outstanding legal issues with the U.S. government stemming from Black Friday.

Then PokerStars was purchased by Amaya Gaming last year and with totally new ownership, it was assumed that the final barrier to the site’s New Jersey launch had been taken down. It looked even better when Amaya and Resorts filed for a transactional waiver in October, but that ended up getting mysteriously slowed, as well. In November, State Senator Ray Lesniak, a long-time poker supporter, publicly accused New Jersey Governor Chris Christie of blocking PokerStars’ approval out of a desire to make Sheldon Adelson happy.

And how we’re here. It looks like all we can do is wait and see.

*An argument could be made that this is changing now that PokerStars is owned by Amaya Gaming, but a) this is very much a matter of perception at this point and not necessarily reality, b) it is only natural that the goals of the company would change now that it is owned by a publicly traded parent and c) even if PokerStars has lost some goodwill over the past year, it is still generally regarded as one of the top few sites in the industry.


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