New arrival may shuffle online poker landscape

Andrew George//October 12, 2015//

New arrival may shuffle online poker landscape

Andrew George//October 12, 2015//

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That’s according to recent polling data cited by William Pascrell III, a lobbyist for Princeton Public Affairs Group — and it’s not lost on operators who have set up shop in the state.

“That’s something that I think the industry has been grappling with,” Pascrell said.

But that could change in a big way, he said, now that, after years of debate, delay and speculation, the owner of PokerStars and Full Tilt has finally been given the green light to come and plant its flag in the Garden State. And it’s just one of the benefits that stakeholders hope to unlock with the arrival of the world’s largest names in online poker.

“Their entry into the market will be transformational,” said Pascrell, whose firm has represented PokerStars.

Late last month, the state Division of Gaming Enforcement authorized Amaya Gaming’s PokerStars and Full Tilt brands to operate within New Jersey in partnership with Atlantic City’s Resorts Casino Hotel. The approval will bring the brands back to the state for the first time since 2011, when they were shut down by the Justice Department for allegedly using fraudulent methods to circumvent a 2006 anti-online gaming law.

Pascrell is quick to note that, although he believes the past two years have been a regulatory success for the DGE, the market is still one that has plenty of room to grow. Changing that perception will rely on a smart marketing campaign, something Pascrell said PokerStars knows how to put together, especially given its resources.

“PokerStars and Amaya and Full Tilt get it,” he said. “They understand that New Jerseyans still do not realize that this is a legal system.”

Internet gaming revenues in New Jersey never caught up to the lofty projection of $1 billion in its first year initially put forth by Gov. Chris Christie, but there are signs the industry is showing a more sustainable pattern of growth. After posting roughly $111 million in Internet gaming revenue in its first year, the state has already seen well over $100 million generated in its second year as its two-year anniversary in November approaches.

This August, for example, the DGE reported that the $12.2 million generated in online gaming revenue was a 15.8 percent boost from the same point in 2014.

Though there has yet to be any official word on when New Jersey should expect PokerStars to be up and operating, some industry experts have their sights on early next year as a possible target date.

It was only two years ago that PokerStars, then based in the Isle of Man with a questionable regulatory history in the United States, attempted to save the failing Atlantic Club Casino Hotel and bring its brand of online poker to Atlantic City.

The Atlantic Club would go on to not just back out of the deal, but close up shop altogether several months later. PokerStars was subsequently dealt a vicious blow by the DGE in December 2013, receiving notice that its application to operate in the state was suspended for two years.

But Montreal-based Amaya’s $4.9 billion acquisition of PokerStars in Full Tilt in 2014 reset the course for entry into New Jersey, seemingly giving the brand a clean slate to make another push.

While PokerStars won’t have its name on the side of an Atlantic City casino this time around, state Sen. Raymond Lesniak (D-Union), a longtime Internet gaming supporter, said the city is still in a position to benefit immensely.

“I also think it’s going to be a big boost for Atlantic City,” Lesniak said.

Lesniak had previously put forth a bill that would essentially open up New Jersey’s Internet gaming market to a worldwide customer base, allowing the DGE to issue licenses to companies offering online wagering to customers in international locations where regulatory agreements with New Jersey would be in place.

“It’s much more beneficial to them to compact with us rather than start from scratch,” Lesniak said.

Not everyone’s as bullish on what PokerStars might mean for New Jersey, however.

Alan Woinski, president of Paramus-based Gaming USA Corp., said New Jersey still faces several hurdles in its online gaming operations that PokerStars won’t be able to fix overnight.

Woinski said that includes some continued issues with credit card payment processing, lower online poker revenues compared to online casino revenues and a lingering sense of mistrust in some circles.

Still, Woinski conceded, PokerStars is “probably better than what’s out there.”

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