It's been less than two years since PokerStars was forced to exit to U.S. market by the Department of Justice. But the world's leading online poker site is already planning its return to the States.
On Thursday, the Wall Street Journal first reported that PokerStars is planning to purchase the struggling Atlantic Club casino in Atlantic City, New Jersey, ahead of the state's legalization of online gambling. PokerStars is reportedly interested in buying the casino from investment firm Colony Capital for around $50 million. The casino would supposedly be the early focus of PokerStars' strategy to reenter the online poker market in the States.
This week, a New Jersey Assembly approved an amended bill that would allow for licensed casinos in Atlantic City to offer authorized games — including poker — to residents of the state. The amended version modified a "bad actor" provision that would have prohibited companies like PokerStars, which served customers in the U.S. after the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA) was passed in 2006.
According to State Sen. Ray Lesniak, the modification of the bill was related to PokerStars' interest in entering Atlantic City.
"I never supported that amendment in the first place," Lesniak told PokerNews' Matthew Kredell on Friday. "When it was pointed out to us that the previous language would restrict PokerStars entry into New Jersey — and other companies that have rehabilitated themselves and would offer competition to give our casinos the best deals possible — when that was discussed with the assembly sponsor and supporters, it was clear to us that entry into the New Jersey marketplace for a company like PokerStars is something we desire and want."
"I think [UIGEA] was a stupid law to begin with," Lesniak added. "You can't keep people away from Internet poker. But [PokerStars] settled their dispute with the Justice Department, so why would we hold that against them when they have so much to offer in terms of jobs and giving a big boost to our efforts to revitalize the city?"
The New Jersey bill could pass by the end of the year; Lesniak predicts a bill vote by the Full Assembly on Dec. 17, followed by a state Senate vote on Dec. 20.
PokerStars exited the U.S. market on April 15, 2011, but the company settled with the Department of Justice in August while admitting no wrongdoing. PokerStars forfeited $731 million to the U.S. and acquired the assets of former defunct rival Full Tilt Poker. As part of the deal, PokerStars repaid all of FTP's non-U.S. customers and relaunched the online poker room in much of the world.
The deal with the DOJ allows for PokerStars to apply for a gaming license once the applicable laws are passed. If approved for a license, PokerStars could rebrand the Atlantic Club poker room and use the casino as a platform to rebuild its customer base in the U.S.
"I think it's great," Lesniak said about PokerStars' interest in the AC casino. "It shows we're a vibrant market that the largest poker gambling site in the world is looking to invest in New Jersey, and not just to run online gaming but to run a casino. I think it's fabulous."
PokerNews reached out to PokerStars on Friday, but a spokesperson declined to comment.