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PokerStars putting down U.S. stakes?

John Grochowski

John Grochowski

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CASINO NOTE

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Updated: February 26, 2013 6:20AM



Chances are you’ve not thought much about PokerStars in recent years. During the Internet and TV-fueled poker boom of the last decade, it was one of the hottest of the hot sites to play Texas Hold’em, Omaha and seven-card stud. It amplified its presence by sponsoring tournaments, tours and some of the best-known players on Team PokerStars.

The Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006 brought things to a halt, banning financial institutions from handling transactions for online gambling. PokerStars continued as a going concern overseas, but in the United States it mostly faded from view except for the occasional item, such as the news last year that it had admitted no wrongdoing but paid the federal government $731 million in fines in a settlement with the Justice Department over allegations that it violated the 2006 act. In the process, it also acquired an old competitor, Full Tilt Poker, and paid off Full Tilt’s debts to American players.

PokerStars would like to get back into the U.S. market, and it’s made an attempt to do that in Atlantic City. Its parent company, Rational Group, has a tentative deal to buy the Atlantic Club, one of 12 casinos in legal gambling’s New Jersey stronghold. The deal is subject to approval by the New Jersey Control Commission.

One interesting aspect to the company’s possible entry into the brick-and-mortar casino world is that the Atlantic Club does not have a poker room. That in itself isn’t unusual in a world where slot players are the dominant species and blackjack players rule the tables. Resorts and Trump Plaza also are sans poker in Atlantic City. In December, poker accounted for 1.7 percent of casino revenue, a figure right in line with just over 1 percent in Nevada.

But there’s an extra attraction that could make New Jersey the place to raise its profile once again, as pointed out by the Poker Players Alliance on its website. In December, the state legislature approved a bill that would make online gambling legal within the state. The bill still needs Gov. Chris Christie’s signature to become law. And even when regulatory systems are in place and online gambling is up and running, operators would be permitted to accept wagers only from New Jersey residents.

That wouldn’t exactly have online poker back running at full tilt, but it would bring PokerStars back closer to its natural environment.

John Grochowski is a local free-lance writer. Look for him on Facebook (http://tinyurl.com/7lzdt44); Twitter (@GrochowskiJ)



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