Last month, Gov. Christie signed a law to allow Internet gambling within the state. Now, a battle is brewing over who can take advantage of the new law. The dispute centers over the proposed sale of the Atlantic Club Hotel to a company known as PokerStars. NJ Today Managing Editor Mike Schneider sat down with Bill Pascrell III, who spoke on behalf of the Atlantic Club and the parent company of PokerStars. He is also the author of the Internet gaming law and lobbyist at Princeton Public Affairs Group.
During the three-year process of getting an Internet gaming law in place, Pascrell said there had been efforts by some Las Vegas-based casinos to keep competitors like PokerStars from getting into the state. Headquartered in the Isle of Man in the British Isles, PokerStars is the largest online poker cardroom in the world.
“They’re licensed in 20 jurisdictions, they have 50 million customers and the irony of this, from day one, these Vegas-based casinos have tried to block not only the Internet gaming bill but other competition from coming in,” said Pascrell. “This is highly anti-competitive.”
Caesars has been one of the most vocal opponents to the sale and the new state law. According to Pascrell, Caesars would rather have a federal law in place, rather than a “hodgepodge of states acting.”
Pascrell added that Gov Christie saw the wisdom of being first in getting an Internet gaming law in place, saying “first mover status is important because this is where the service will be based, this is where the American Internet gaming institution industry will plant its flag.”
Some have speculated that Caesars’ action is in retaliation for PokerStars declining to buy Caesars’ Rio property in Las Vegas. While Pascrell wouldn’t comment on Caesar’s motives, he said the timeline of Caesar’s actions is telling.
“Isn’t it ironic that on Feb. 8 of this year while the bill was sitting on the governor’s desk, Caesars approached the PokerStars headquarters and asked them to buy the Rio for $400 million … because they knew that they control Nevada, they don’t control New Jersey.”
In 2011, a legal action resulted in the U.S. Attorney shutting down PokerStars’ website. But Pascrell said PokerStars is fully fit for license and has been given the green light by the U.S. Attorney’s office in New Jersey, the governor’s office and the Attorney General’s office.
Pascrell said opposition to PokerStars from operating in the state is simply to keep out competition. But the fact that Gov. Christie is setting aside $200 million toward online gaming is an indication of the administration’s commitment towards implementing the new law, he said. “[Christie] will make sure that on July 1 of his year, New Jersey is prepared to go forward with online gaming and [Poker]Stars is the pathway forward,” said Pascrell.
Pascrell added that PokerStars has not only made a commitment to buy the [Atlantic Club] property but to upgrade it, saying “they’re going to put their name on it and they’re going to make it a real reputable place to operate.”