Amaya Gaming To Acquire Rational Group, Owner of PokerStars

Amaya GamingThe owner of the largest online poker sites in the world, PokerStars and Full Tilt Poker, is being sold to Amaya Gaming Group Inc. in a deal that is worth $4.9 billion in efforts to expand into the regulated U.S. online gaming market in which Amaya already has a presence.

Canadian owned Amaya Gaming Group has said the deal will make it the biggest publicly traded online gaming operator. The Amaya Group owns the Ongame Network, which it purchased from in 2012, as well as Cryptologic, which is a developer of online casino games.

According to a press release posted on the PokerStars website, “Amaya believes the transaction will expedite the entry of PokerStars and Full Tilt Poker into regulated markets in which Amaya already holds a footprint, particularly the U.S.” The press release also said that the Rational Group’s management team will be retained but the Scheinberg family will no longer have any involvement with the company.

Clearly, there are also plans for online casino gaming expansion, with the press release from PokerStars going on to state, “Additionally, Amaya will provide an extensive selection of its online casino games to expand the Full Tilt Poker casino platform. Amaya intends to strongly support Rational Group’s growth initiatives in new gaming verticals, including casino, sportsbook, and social gaming, and new geographies.”

John Pappas, Director of the PPA, said in a statement, “This is encouraging news for millions of American players who have anxiously awaited the return of PokerStars to the U.S.” Rest of world online poker players will be glad to know that PokerStars and Full Tilt will remain unaffected by the acquisition, with a smooth transition expected without any major changes or interruptions to these sites.

The majority of the feedback in response to the deal is positive with many in the industry of the opinion that the change in ownership should open the doors for PokerStars to re-enter the United States market. In December 2013, NJ gambling regulators said that PokerStars won’t receive a license to offer online poker in New Jersey for at least two years, the reason for this decision was primarily due to Isai Scheinberg not returning to the U.S. to face Black Friday related charges, although it would reconsider its decision if the operator demonstrated “significantly changed circumstances.”

Amaya Gaming is already operating in New Jersey where it is providing its services to some of the state’s licensed gaming operators, and it has also made a deal with the Golden Nugget in Nevada, and so any problems up until now that have prevented PokerStars from re-entering the market should be gone.

The majority of the negative feedback surrounds Amaya Gaming’s ability to take over the PokerStars’ operations with some online poker players in the United States worried that the new ownership may mean PokerStars won’t be the same. Part of the concern is the Amaya Gaming Group has focused on its B2B operations, leaving many to question whether or not the company will be able to properly manage online poker on the consumer side of things in addition to the international poker tours that were part of the deal.

Amaya has said the deal is expected to be finalized by the end of September. The acquisition of Full Tilt Poker and PokerStars has already been approved in principal by the boards of both companies, and a $50 million deposit has already been put down, but the deal still needs the approval of the Amaya Gaming Group Inc. shareholders who will all be voting at their annual meeting, which is scheduled to take place on July 30.