While the New Jersey poker community waits with bated breath, the new Amaya Gaming-led PokerStars seems to be taking their time in making their grand entrance into the Atlantic City online gaming and poker industry.
In September following the completion of the sale of the #1 online poker site in the industry to Amaya Gaming, rumors almost immediately began about PokerStars coming back to the United States – or, at least, the New Jersey market. Discussions for the licensing of PokerStars and Amaya Gaming began almost immediately with New Jersey officials following the announcement of the sale this summer and they seemed to gain traction as the deal was completed. New Jersey State Senator Ray Lesniak, one of the foremost proponents of online gaming regulation, even remarked that it would be “only a few weeks away” in September but, since then, action on granting Amaya and PokerStars a license for operations seems to have stalled.
The potential reasoning for this is something that has become far too commonplace in the U. S. system of government and industry – politics.
Lesniak, responding to a barrage of Tweets from disgruntled online poker players, commented that the final decision on PokerStars’ return rested with New Jersey Governor Chris Christie instead of the New Jersey Department of Gaming Enforcement. Christie, currently sweeping the U. S. campaigning for various Republican candidates in the 2014 midterm elections, has plenty of reasons for delaying PokerStars’ return to the U. S. due to something that may occur two years from now, the 2016 Presidential elections.
It is known that Christie is considering a run at the Republican nomination for president and, as such, he will need the support of the major power broker in the GOP, Las Vegas Sands CEO Sheldon Adelson. Adelson, who earlier this year hosted a powwow of a select few of the potential GOP nominees (Christie was joined by other potential nominees such as former Florida Governor Jeb Bush and current Governors Scott Walker of Wisconsin and John Kasich of Ohio), is looking to back a candidate who covers two factors: that they will be electable and that they will implement many of the policies that he would like to see in effect. With his $38 billion bankroll (and the unlimited contributions that can be made to a campaign), the support of Adelson is considered key to any candidate’s chances in the 2016 race.
With this in mind, Christie is dancing around the issue of online gaming and poker. Adelson’s vehement opposition to any federal regulation of the industry – to the point of not even allowing individual states to enact laws for it – puts Christie in a tough spot. While he needs to continue to support gaming in the Garden State (both online and live) for the state’s revenues, he has to give the appearance to the Adelson faction that he wouldn’t violate one of Adelson’s major goals. If Christie is to get the blessing of Adelson, the New Jersey Governor could push off a decision on PokerStars in payback to Adelson for his support.
This support is not to be taken lightly. Although President Barack Obama was able to win a second term in 2012, Adelson allegedly funneled $45 million to two of the GOP’s presidential hopefuls, Newt Gingrich and eventual nominee Mitt Romney, and donated millions more to various candidates for other offices around the U. S.
There could also be a less-sinister reason for the delay in PokerStars’ return to online gaming and poker in New Jersey. The one year anniversary is this Thanksgiving and, for the most part, it has been relatively successful. The New Jersey online gaming industry should pull in more than $100 million in its first year of operation – far short of the $260 million estimate the Christie administration stated would come – but it appears to have hit maximum saturation with its operations. The two “big guns” in New Jersey are PartyBorgata and WSOP.com, with both companies having a seven-day average of approximately 120 players each (according to PokerScout.com).
Seeing this saturation, Amaya Gaming may be waiting until a more opportune moment to make an entrance in New Jersey. Several factors – potential interstate player compacts, other states entering the game, etc. – could be causing the delay from the Amaya offices; quite honestly, they want to get the maximum bang for their expenditures. If they were to enter the New Jersey market at this point, they may just steal players from the PartyBorgata and WSOP operations rather than bring in any “new blood” to the game.
Thus, the New Jersey online gaming and poker market will continue to wait for the return of PokerStars. Without any movement in either the political situations or in the continuing drive for state-by-state regulation, it could be an even longer wait than many thought.