Chris Christie Accused of Blocking PokerStars in New Jersey
New Jersey Governor continues an early-2015 pattern of being besieged on all political fronts, with one of the latest salvos again involving the state’s nascent online-gambling industry. In a piece for Business Insider, Christie stands accused of blocking PokerStars long-stalled application for approval as a service provider in New Jersey.
Christie’s accuser is pro-gaming NJ State Senator Ray Lesniak, who told BI that Christie continues to intentionally block the Stars application as a political favor to Sheldon Adelson, the Las Vegas Sands CEO and GOP mega-donor. Prospective presidential candidate Christie has been increasingly linked to Adelson, despite some philosophical disagreements on other topics. Christie has been among those who have repeatedly made trips to Las Vegas in search of Adelson’s huge political donations.
New Jersey’s introduction of regulated online gambling continues to be a hot plate of sorts for Christie, with the long-dormant PokerStars application again front and center. Originally stalled because of prior owner Rational Group’s “Black Friday” problems, the application was supposed to be on the fast track, per New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement director David Rebuck, following the sale of PokerStars to Amaya last year.
Except that hasn’t happened. And it hasn’t happened -despite- the generally accepted conclusion that the introduction of the highly respected Stars brand name would provide a boost to the NJ market, which has lagged far below the Christie administration’s original lofty projections.
The cause, according to Lesniak, is Christie himself. “Christie put a stop to it,” Lesniak said to Business Insider. “With a high degree of confidence it’s apparent that’s exactly what has happened.”
Added Lesniak later in the story, “It’s pretty well known,” said Lesniak. “But I don’t think anyone’s going to go on the record to confirm it.” The story contained similar allegations against Christie from a prominent New Jersey union official, whose rank-and-file membership would likely gain jobs if the Stars licensing was ever approved.
Lesniak later linked to the story on Twitter, referring to the BI feature as “The truth, the whole truth”:
— Senator Ray Lesniak (@SenatorLesniak) February 12, 2015
Has Christie sold down his state’s interests in order to curry personal political favor with Adelson? Such crassness may belie the increasing desperation of the Christie camp, which has seen its 2016 presidential-elction projection numbers sag, and which may view a campaign funded by Adelson’s deep pockets as a last, best hope. (Cynics ready note the pattern is similar to how Adelson backed losing candidate Newt Gingrich in 2012.)
Among the latest troubles for Christie are one that is Adelson-specific: Christie’s lavish acceptance of private-jet flights to exotic destinations for his entire family, including a trip to Israel (and then Jordan) aboard Sheldon Adelson’s private jet. The 2012 trip came for just as New Jersey’s online-gambling debate came into focus, and was only the first of several such trips taken by Christie and his family to “five star” destinations.
The New York Times recently published an expose on Christie’s lavish and expensive preferences, many of which are also paid for on New Jersey’s public dime. From $1,000-a-night hotel rooms at the 2013 New Orleans Super Bowl to private-car service billed in hundreds of dollars for just a few miles of travel, Christie’s extravagant tastes run counter to the austerity he professes to as part of his campaign image.
Indeed, the more the entire nation looks at Christie, the more venal New Jersey’s sitting governor appears. It’s quite possible that Adelson has saddled himself with another loser, even if the Christie and the Adelson camps disagree on how exactly New Jersey’s legalization of online gambling came to be. Christie, quite publicly, proclaimed to Adelson that he signed the state’s online-gambling legalization bill only under duress and the threat of an imminent veto override, which the Adelson camp disputes.
An override was indeed threatened, but Christie negotiated his own agreement with the New Jersey legislature over specifics in an earlier version of the state’s bill, before quickly signing the revision into law. And Christie himself continues to champion the state’s efforts to overturn the federal government’s PASPA prohibitions against sports betting — with the understood implication that if ever approved, New Jersey’s sports betting would soon become available online as well.
All that circles back to the delayed PokerStars application, and the man who is finding himself under increasing heat, David Rebuck. Though Rebuck and the DGE may be receiving their marching orders from Christie, it’s Rebuck who will have to answer if, as Lesniak is pushing for, an investigation is launched.
Lesniak is now trying to paint Rebuck as the pressure point, forcing him to act. As he told BI, “One thing about Rebuck is, if he’s asked by law-enforcement authorities, he’s going to tell the truth. He’s not going to jump on that sword.”