When Delaware, Nevada and New Jersey first legalized and regulated online poker in their individual jurisdictions, it was thought that it would take years (if ever) for PokerStars to get a foot in the US regulated market. Bad actors clauses in every authored set of regulations made sure Rational Group (PokerStars parent company) and other entities that violated the UIGEA would not be able to participate. But with Amaya Gaming now navigating the proverbial ship, and still no New Jersey license in hand, industry analysts are now speculating as to why there’s been such a long delay in the process.
Canadian-based Amaya Gaming finalized its negotiations to acquire Rational Group in mid-June, and was in talks with the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement just three days later. According to the commission’s director, David Rebuck, the DGE was totally on board with pushing the license through and getting PokerStars up and running in the Garden State as quickly as possible. After all, PokerStars had already begun the licensing process last year (put on hold by its then-association with US fugitive Isai Scheinberg), and Amaya Gaming is already licensed in New Jersey, partnered with Caesars Interactive to operate CaesarsCasino.com.
If everyone was in agreement that PokerStars should enter the New Jersey online poker market post-haste, why is there still no license on the table? Some experts have come up with their own reasoning, and there are two distinct possibilities in the mix. One has to do with Amaya waiting for a more opportune moment due to saturation in the market. The other could be a stall from the top of the political chain in the Garden State, Governor Chris Christie.
It’s no secret that Gov. Christie has his eye on the 2016 Presidential elections. Should he decide to make a run for the Republican nomination, he’s going to need a lot of backing, and when republicans look for support, the first stop on the road is Sheldon Adelson, CEO of Las Vegas Sands Corp. Adelson is the number one opponent of online gambling in the United States, and has already spent millions in a push for the passage of a bill called Restoration of America’s Wire Act (RAWA). If successful, it would create a blanket ban of online poker and casino gambling across the US, including a shutdown of the current legalized markets in Delaware, Nevada and New Jersey.
In order to get Adelson on his side, Gov. Christie would have to support the same policies as Adelson, which would mean changing his tune toawrdsiGaming. He already pushed for regulation in his home state, but continuing that push with a PokerStars entry could put the nail in his coffin, as far as support from Adelson is concerned.
The possibility that a Presidential campaign could be the cause of PokerStars NJ’s delay was actually brought up by State Senator Ray Lesniak. Sen. Lesniak has been a strong proponent of online gambling, and stated in September, after the Amaya-Rational Group deal was officially closed, that a PokerStars license could be “only a few weeks away”. After a recent volley of complaints from online poker fans (wondering why PokerStars has yet to receive a license) incited a response from Lesniak that said the fault could easily lie with Gov. Christie, not the NJ DGE.
If that’s not the case, however, then it’s most likely Amaya’s choice not to bring PokerStars into action just yet. The New Jersey market already supports several online poker sites, with the two top performers being the Party Borgata network and WSOP NJ. Between the two, they average 240 concurrent players. Without much wiggle room for a new operator, it could just be that Amaya is looking for a more opportune moment to jump into the pool.