Gambling regulators on Wednesday took a big step toward growing the nascent online betting industry by approving the world's largest poker website to offer Internet gambling in the state.
The state Division of Gaming Enforcement said it approved Amaya Inc. to offer its PokerStars and Full Tilt brands. The company, which is affiliated with Resorts Casino Hotel in Atlantic City, said the approval allows PokerStars to resume business in the United States.
New Jersey officials and outside observers have said the entry of PokerStars could reshape the state's fledgling online betting industry, which had 17 websites, by adding two sites that have 95 million registered users. The state is among three, along with Delaware and Nevada, to offer Internet gambling.
Door is now open
Internet gambling began in New Jersey in November 2013. After a slow start, it has been showing gradual improvement. Last year it took in $122 million, and for the first eight months of this year it brought in $96.7 million, an increase of 15.6 percent over the same period a year ago.
Amaya's chairman, David Baazov, said he was pleased to add New Jersey to the list of regulated markets that have found PokerStars and Full Tilt suitable to offer real-money online gambling.
"We look forward to bringing our popular brands, innovative technology, marketing prowess and world-class security and game integrity to the growing New Jersey online gaming market," he said.
Players will have to be in New Jersey to gamble with Amaya's sites.
The Division of Gaming Enforcement confirmed Wednesday it had issued waivers to six Amaya subsidiaries to operate PokerStars, the world's biggest poker website, and Full Tilt in New Jersey through a partnership with Resorts Digital. Resorts president Mark Giannantonio said he didn't know when the sites planned to go live.
PokerStars tried twice in 2013 to get licensed in New Jersey. But the division suspended the company for up to two years, citing legal problems involving some company executives, including an unresolved indictment against its founder. Executives involved in PokerStars' acceptance of bets in the United States after the U.S. government made it illegal to take payments in connection with illegal gambling through the Internet stepped down as part of the sale to Amaya.
The PokerStars website, which stopped doing business in the U.S. in 2011, paid a $547 million fine to the Department of Justice but didn't admit wrongdoing. Amaya will put about $400,000 into a trust account with the state for unrecovered funds left from former New Jersey players "so that they may reclaim them," a spokesman said.
PokerStars tried to buy the Atlantic Club Casino, but that deal fell apart and the casino shut down in January 2014.
PokerStars then partnered with Resorts, which had been unable to offer Internet gambling while PokerStars was suspended. Resorts launched online gambling this year with Sportech NYX Gaming LLC as it waited for the PokerStars decision.
Amaya bought PokerStars and Full Tilt in August 2014. It also owns StarsDraft, the European Poker Tour, PokerStars Caribbean Adventure, the Latin American Poker Tour and the Asia Pacific Poker Tour.