PokerStars and the AGA fight for control of NJ poker
With Governor Chris Christie signing the retooled online poker bill into law last week the road seemed clear for the return of PokerStars to the US online poker market. Prior to the bill being passed, PokerStars entered into a tentative agreement with the struggling Atlantic Club Casino in Atlantic City, New Jersey, a move predicated on currently licensed casinos getting first-crack at online gaming licenses in the Garden State.
However, this week PokerStars received a little pushback in their efforts to reenter the US online poker market, when the casino-backed American Gaming Association (AGA for short) filed a brief with the New Jersey Casino Control Commission and Division of Gaming Enforcement seeking to block PokerStars from receiving an online poker license in New Jersey. The brief called into questions PokerStars track-record, calling the site a “business built on deceit, chicanery, and the systematic flouting of U.S. law.”
On the flipside PokerStars feels it is standing on solid ground, as their 2012 settlement with the US Department of Justice specifically states the company is able to apply for gaming licenses in the US where local laws permit.
It would seem that the AGA has already won a victory over PokerStars, as the group is widely considered to have been the driving force behind the “bad Player” clause that was recently added to Nevada’s online poker legislation –a clause that will keep PokerStars from applying for a Nevada license for at least five years.
Further muddying the waters between the two groups was the revelation on Forbes.com where PokerStars Head of Corporate Communications Eric Hollreiser told Nathan Vardi that Caesar’s Entertainment (one of the driving forces behind the AGA) had approached the online gaming giant looking to sell some assets including the Rio Hotel and Casino and the World Series of Poker brand. According to Hollresier, PokerStars rebuffed Caesar’s offer and now it appears that PokerStars is using the failed sale in a battle taking place in the court of public opinion.
The thinking could very well be that by tarnishing the AGA’s motives PokerStars will have a better shot at having the sale of Atlantic Club Casino approved by the New Jersey Casino Control Commission and Division of Gaming Enforcement, the first step in their US return.
The fight between US casino interests and the offshore online poker rooms that have been operating for some 10-15 years was bound to come to a head sooner or later. At first it appeared the two industries would partner up (as was the case in Nevada) but more and more it is looking like each side wants the entire pie all for themselves, and the current battle in New Jersey could be just the tip of the iceberg; this war could get very, very, ugly.
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