Online poker could get a second chance in U.S.

Online gambling

A man plays poker on his computer connected to an internet gaming site from his home in Manassas, VA.

Amaya Gaming, a Canadian company, is buying Oldford Group, the parent of popular sites like PokerStars. Amaya is the smaller of the two, but it’s the acquirer. And, one of the biggest selling points for the $4.9 billion deal is that many top officials from Oldford will be leaving the combined company completely. 

This could bring sites like PokerStars back to the U.S., and bring back memories of the era from the mid-1990s to the mid-2000s, when online poker was a free for all, and sites like PokerStars were making players like Chris Carlson rich. 

“I started making so much money from playing online that I left my really paying, secure job to play professionally. And, I played most of my hands at PokerStars,” he says. 

But in 2006, the Justice Department said a 1960s era law banned many online gaming transactions. Sites like PokerStars started operated in a kind of gray market. And, started crossing some lines, such as, “incorrectly coding the transactions so they were not obvious to the credit card issuers as gambling transactions,” says Mark Hichar, chairman of the gaming law practice group at Hinckley Allen.

PokerStars allegedly labeled some as golf purchases. There’s another way to put this, he says, “Fraud and money-laundering.” 

That was the accusation against top officials at PokerStars and other sites on a day in 2011 that became known as Black Friday. PokerStars quickly left the U.S. Popularity in online poker plummeted. 

Later that year, the Justice Department ruled that states can legalize online gambling, after all. New Jersey, Delaware and Nevada did, but kept PokerStars out, while its officials remain indicted or under suspicion. That’s why it’s a big deal they’re leaving the combined company.

“Given that this deal basically results in the removal of all those entities from PokerStars as a corporate entity, it seems as if New Jersey regulators won’t have any objection to PokerStars now entering the market,” says Christopher Grove, editor of Online Poker Report, who adds this deal could be the start of a new era of online poker in the U.S.

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