New Jersey State Sen. Raymond Lesniak doesn't think Rational Group, the parent company of PokerStars, should have any trouble gaining the state's approval for its purchase of the Atlantic Club Casino Hotel.
"They're a huge international company with a tremendous amount of resources," Lesniak said in a phone interview. Lesniak is the leading sponsor of the Internet gambling legislation awaiting Gov. Chris Christie's decision. "They've operated throughout the world without any difficulty. The legal issues that they had with the Justice Department were not the type of legal issues that have been of great concern to us.
"Atlantic City and New Jersey have a very thorough regulatory process. That's because of the influence of organized crime that was rampant in New Jersey decades ago. That's not an issue here with PokerStars. What they did is not the same level of illegal activity that we have to be concerned about in New Jersey and elsewhere in terms of the gaming industry."
As first reported by The Press of Atlantic City, Rational Group has a deal in place to purchase the Atlantic Club and has filed papers with the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement seeking regulatory approval for the transaction.
The division has up to 90 days to conduct its investigation and file a report with the Casino Control Commission, which then has up to 30 days to conduct a hearing and reach a final decision. The sale would close after final regulatory approval from the New Jersey Casino Control Commission.
"This is a big, big boost to Atlantic City and its revival," Lesniak said. "I think it's important for the success of Atlantic City to have investors like PokerStars."
According to a source, the deal between Rational Group and the Atlantic Club may be contingent on Christie's allowing Lesniak's Internet gambling bill to pass. It's no secret that the attraction of owning a casino that has been losing millions of dollars a year is the potential for PokerStars to return to the U.S. through New Jersey.
The New Jersey legislation, which passed through the state senate Dec. 20, would allow Atlantic City casinos to offer online poker to state residents with the probability of other states reaching agreements with New Jersey in the future to form a larger player pool.
According to Lesniak, Christie has until Feb. 4 to sign, veto, or allow the bill to proceed without action. Although Lesniak had put a similar bill on Christie's desk in March 2011, the governor vetoed it, even though earlier, in his state-of-the-state address in January 2012, Christie seemed to be warming to the idea of Internet gambling coming to the state through Atlantic City, but then he wavered on the issue throughout the year. He made no mention of his plans in this year's state-of-the-state last week.
With Atlantic City facing even more financial difficulties after Hurricane Sandy's shock to tourism, some people think it likely that Christie will approve the bill this time around. However, each day he lets it sit on his desk without action creates doubts. He waited until the last possible day to veto the bill in 2011.
Lesniak and his fellow Democratic leaders in the New Jersey legislature sent a letter to Christie urging him to sign the bill.
"If the governor doesn't sign my Internet gaming bill, there will be at least one casino and probably others that will have to close their doors, and thousands of people will lose their jobs in Atlantic City," Lesniak said. "Without additional revenue from Internet gaming, that's what will happen."
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