Less than two months ago, then-CEO of Rational Group, Mark Scheinberg, wrote a letter to shareholders announcing the intended sale of the company to Canadian-based Amaya Gaming Group. A price tag of $4.9 billion had been agreed upon, and the result was a whirlwind of speculations as to how such an acquisition would affect the online gambling industry, particularly the online poker industry, on a global scale. But first, the deal had to be finalized. As of August 1, 2014, the final signatures were inked and the deal has been officially completed.
It took just 7 weeks to get from point A to point B, putting David Baazov, CEO of Amaya Gaming, as the head controller of Rational Group, and with it, the world’s largest online poker room, PokerStars, as well as Full Tilt. Amidst the contractual dissection from Amaya’s shareholders and Rational Group’s licensing regulators, both of which quickly signed off on the deal in the last week of July, a multitude of questions arose. Primarily, would PokerStars finally get a foot in the door of the US market?
The general consensus was yes, but now that the acquisition of Rational Group has been finalized, more experts are commenting on the issue. John Pappas, the Director of the Poker Players Alliance (PPA), said he was “impressed” by the speed at which Amaya closed the deal and said it just goes to show how motivated the new parent company is. “Amaya Gaming will be a major player in the US market,” said Pappas.
Ostensibly, New Jersey and California will be the primary targets for the reintroduction of PokerStars into the US iGaming market. New Jersey officials have already expressed their anticipation of the online poker room’s licensure in the state, and although California’s legislators have continually proposed internet poker bills that would eliminate bad actors from participation, the new leadership at Rational Group could slide PokerStars into that market as well, if and when the Golden State passes the necessary regulations.
The reentry of PokerStars into the US is all but inevitable. It’s more a question of when, not if. The real issue for Americans who have been looking forward to that moment since Black Friday struck in April of 2011 is whether or not the new PokerStars will be as affable as the PokerStars of old.
Amaya Chairman and CEO David Baazov answered that question with an affirmative ‘yes’ when he said, “Rational’s success is attributable to the company’s core values of integrity, customer focus, and challenge. We intend for Rational to maintain this culture and will support its initiatives to continue growing this world class business.”
Up to this point, industry analysts had predicted that PokerStars could be fully licensed and ready to launch in New Jersey by late fall. However, the tentative close date for the acquisition was originally slated for September. Considering that deadline was met a month in advance, we could see PokerStars in New Jersey as soon as late September to October.
While some have insinuated that existing operators in New Jersey will be unable to compete with the likes of such a massive, internationally favored brand, the reality for players is a much brighter one. Up until now, New Jersey’s online poker market has been sluggish, to put it mildly. Party Borgata, WSOP NJ, AAPN and Ultimate NJ have been scrutinized for dragging their feet on software upgrades and the addition of features that players had become accustomed to pre-Black Friday. With PokerStars’ looming inclusion, it should force these existing operators to initiate the improvements players have been begging for since day 1.