On Monday, the American Gaming Association (AGA), a lobbying organization for the commercial casino industry in the United States, filed a brief with both the New Jersey Casino Control Commission and Division of Gaming Enforcement, urging them to deny Rational Group’s application for an Interim Casino Authorization (ICA).
Rational Group, the parent company of PokerStars, entered into an agreement with Resorts International Holdings in January to purchase the struggling Atlantic City property, the Atlantic Club Casino Hotel. The Division of Gaming Enforcement is currently reviewing the application. If it approves it, the application will move on to the Casino Control Commission.
Though PokerStars is financially stable and highly respected in the online gaming industry, the AGA is protesting its possible ICA because it the world’s largest online poker site continued to accept U.S. customers after the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act was passed in 2006. It was not until the U.S. government filed a civil forfeiture action against the poker room that PokerStars stopped offering its games in the United States. In addition simply making its games accessible in the U.S., the AGA also cites PokerStars’ willingness to skirt U.S. law in order to do so, doing things such as concealing the source of funds transfers to U.S. customers so that they did appear to come from a gambling site.
In its brief, the AGA stated, “The ICA is designed to expedite conditional licensing of qualified licensees, not open the door into New Jersey’s gaming industry for applicants who cannot meet the law’s standards for integrity and honesty.”
It added, “Any action allowing PokerStars to be licensed would send a damaging message to the world of gaming, and to the world beyond gaming, that companies that engage in chronic lawbreaking are welcome in the licensed gaming business.”
In response, PokerStars spokesperson Eric Hollreiser has told the media, “These are matters for expert regulators to determine, not self-interested partisans picking a public fight.”
New Jersey state Senator Jim Whelan (D – Atlantic), was even less diplomatic in his criticism of the American Gaming Association, telling The Press of Atlantic City, “They are motivated by greed. They want to keep foreign investors out…The gaming association is their vehicle.”
He has also alleged that Caesars Entertainment Corporation is really the driving force behind the protest and is using the AGA to pick a fight. The company is the largest player in Atlantic City, owning Harrah’s Atlantic City, Showboat, Caesars Atlantic City, and Bally’s Atlantic City. Critics of the AGA and its brief argue that, as Senator Whelan said in so many words, Caesars and other U.S.-based gaming companies don’t want further competition and a PokerStars brick-and-mortar presence in Atlantic City would certainly be that. Should PokerStars not be granted the ICA and in turn have its deal to buy the Atlantic Club fall through, it could spell the end for that casino. There would then be millions of gambling dollars up for grabs, dollars that the American companies would be eager to absorb.