The moment New Jersey State Sen. and gubernatorial candidate Ray Lesniak has long awaited and predicted finally came Wednesday when the Division of Gaming Enforcement (DGE) approved PokerStars to operate in the state.
"I was only a year ahead with projections," Lesniak said with a laugh.
As New Jersey's Internet gaming revenues failed to meet expectations, Lesniak pointed at PokerStars as the key to turning around Atlantic City's fortunes. Now that PokerStars' parent company, Amaya Gaming, has its approval, he sees excitement for iGaming in the Garden State's future.
"It's huge for Atlantic City because PokerStars' plans are to promote Atlantic City along with its iGaming platform," Lesniak said. "The other operators are just promoting iGaming. PokerStars will bring attractions to Atlantic City, concerts to promote their brand, and maybe even live poker tournaments after an Internet elimination round. The potential is unlimited because they have the gravitas to have a substantial impact."
PokerStars is partnered with Resorts Casino in Atlantic City, which was the first casino to open in New Jersey in 1978 but ranked last among Atlantic City's eight remaining casinos in revenue in 2014. Amaya Gaming has pledged $10 million to construct a PokerStars-branded poker room in the casino.
Lesniak said he didn't know the timetable for PokerStars to be up and running in New Jersey, but "my opinion is the sooner the better."
It was last September that Lesniak predicted it was only a matter of weeks before PokerStars gained DGE approval, which has been under review since Amaya Gaming purchased PokerStars and Full Tilt in June of 2014.
He later blamed Gov. Chris Christie and Las Vegas Sands owner Sheldon Adelson for the delay when the review process kept going and going and going.
"The DGE turned over and looked under every single rock within the company," Lesniak said. "When they finally ran out of rocks to look under, they had to approve the license. They had no other options. This was the most thorough proctologist's test ever given to a company."
When PokerStars does begin operations in New Jersey, players will only be able to play with other people in New Jersey, not with the international PokerStars player pool. Lesniak thinks this will slowly change over time. He has indicated that if he becomes governor he would push for compacts not only with other states but international jurisdictions where poker is legal.
He also sees the growth that PokerStars will bring to the market as key to stopping Adelson's efforts to get a federal ban against iGaming.
"This is a game-changer," Lesniak said. "It sends a strong message to Washington, D.C., to keep your hands off New Jersey and other states' efforts to have Internet gaming for their residents. I think it's a body blow to efforts to shut down Internet gaming across the country because there's no doubt in my mind that this will boost New Jersey's reach into other states to get up and running and compact with us to take advantage of the revenues it could produce for their states."
*Lead photo courtesy of atlanticcitynj.com.