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PokerStars Calling in its Markers in New Jersey Online Poker Battle

PokerStars’ efforts to reenter the United States poker market via its purchase of the New Jersey-based Atlantic Club Casino continue to be the point of focus for efforts both for and against the online giant.

APokerStars couple of weeks ago, it was the American Gaming Association making headlines, attempting to intrude on the possible approval of Stars-related entity Rational Group US, by sending a brief to New Jersey regulators regarding Stars’ alleged prior bad actions.  That move was historic and precedent-setting in the manner of an anti-competitive move by an entity (the AGA) daring to insert itself into the regulatory process of the state, and quickly drew an angry rebuttal from PokerStars/Rational officials.

This week, Stars used its connections to fire back at the AGA and at another company the site feels is responsible for the anti-Stars activity, namely PartyPoker, now part of

DiamondFlushPoker this week published a pro-PokerStars piece titled “Has the AGA Been Honest About Their Motives, or Just Very Selective as to its Prey?”  It’s a solid compendium of dirt on some of the forces seemingly aligned against Stars, namely AGA member Caesars Entertainment and, and includes mention of the $400 million Caesars sought from PokerStars to purchase the Las Vegas-based Rio All-Suites Hotel and Casino, the physical home of the World Series of Poker.  (The WSOP itself was not included in this portion of the Caesars offer.  Here’s what Diamond Flush wrote:

…Caesars has made no public comments about the claim, but sources have confirmed to Diamond Flush Poker that such a call did take place on February 8, at approximately noon Eastern time. The conversation took place between, again, Mitch Garber, CEO of C.I.E, who are majority owners of the WSOP brand, and the acting CEO of PokerStars. Sources have also confirmed that a senior member of Caesars Entertainment was on the call as well. The asking price for the Rio alone was said to be $ 400 million. No price was relayed for the price of the WSOP brand.

The “sources” may have included prominent gaming attorney Ian Imrich, who not only promoted the DiamondFlush piece in multiple Tweets on his own legal-themed Twitter account (@ijiLaw), but who also provided a link to the settlement agreement in 2009 between the Department of Justice and PartyGaming.

The DiamondFlush piece is quite good, but it also has the appearance of being a little bit spoon-fed, leaving little doubt that Imrich for sure and probably DiamondFlush as well are receiving Stars funding for helping distribute the story, which talks about the motives of Caesars and the AGA and moves afield from there, including language from the Party/DOJ settlememt — termed a “non-prosecution agreement” and the checkered past of Party exec Mitch Garber, including his former role as CEO of Firepay.  Firepay was at one time the largest US-facing online payment processor, using fraudulent means such as miscoding ACH transactions to get money into the US banking system.

Speaking of Stars-funded public relations efforts, there’s this new Poker Players Alliance poll regarding PokerStars that was featured in a story written by New Jersey gaming writer John Brennan in his “Meadowlands Matters” blog.  Since Stars has provided the vast majority of funding for the PPA in recent years, with only about 1% of the PPA’s funding coming from actual member donations, Stars execs probably figured they might as well get something for their bucks.

The Brennan piece takes the findings of the poll and paints a very rosy, pro-PokerStars picture, and that part of it is actually true: PokerStars is almost assuredly viewed more favorably by its customers than most US-based casinos are by theirs.

But, caveat emptor.  If you’ve ever seen a PPA poll before — and a couple of examples exist on the 2+2 forums — you’ll quickly understand that the concepts of scientific methodology and the creation of non-leading questions are lost on the PPA.  Well, maybe not so much lust as willfully ignored.  This is, after all, a lobbying firm, with all that applies.

But the stuff presented by fact (based on the poll) by Brennan in his story ignore how biased and pro-Stars the poll had to be in the first place.  The PPA surveyed 998 of its New Jersey members, according to the piece, but here’s what the story never mentioned: The vast majority of those 998 PPA “members” were non-paying freebies obtained by PokerStars themselves though PPA-themed freerolls run on the Stars site.

Yes, the PPA has picked up some members elsewhere, but its likely that 80% or 85% or even more of these poll respondents were actually supplied by PokerStars.  And now they’re singing PokerStars’ praises, in a poll, when compared with other gambling opportunities?  Pshaw.  Who would’ve thought?

The PPA poll is much weaker when viewed in that light, simply because it carries no pretense of impartiality.  I’d declare it nigh on worthless. marketing pap as opposed to any actual observation of player preference.  Not that PokerStars isn’t well liked; we just can’t accept this as proof of it.


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