Amaya to Acquire Rational Group for $ 4.9 Billion

Amaya PSAfter months of speculation from the poker community, it’s now official… Oldford Group Limited, parent company of Rational Group, owner and operator of PokerStars and Full Tilt Poker, is being acquired by Amaya Gaming Group.

The total purchase price is $ 4.9 billion. The boards of directors of both Amaya and Oldford Group unanimously approved the agreement.

The addition of privately held Rational Group, recognized as the world’s largest online poker business, will make Amaya Gaming the largest publicly traded online gaming company in the world. As stated in the joint press release, the transaction combines complimentary businesses with minimal overlap:  Isle of Man headquartered Rational Group’s B2C poker business including PokerStars, Full Tilt Poker, live poker tours and events, and online and TV poker programming, and Montreal headquartered Amaya’s B2B interactive and physical casino and lottery gaming solutions.  The combined pro forma revenue and EBITDA for calendar year 2013 of Amaya and Oldford Group were $ 1.3 billion and $ 474.8 million respectively.

Under terms of the transaction, shareholders of Oldford Group, led by CEO Mark Scheinberg, will dispose of their shares to a wholly owned subsidiary of Amaya. Scheinberg and other principals of Oldford Group will resign from all positions with Oldford Group and its subsidiaries upon completion of the sale.    Continue reading

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New Jersey DGE: “We are ready, willing and able to help”

 

David Rebuck, Director  DGE

David Rebuck, Director DGE

New Jersey’s Division of Gaming Enforcement knew even before the launch of online gaming in the state, that other states across the country would be watching. “We knew that someone had to be the “test subject” for other jurisdictions that wanted to consider online gaming” said DGE Director David Rebuck.  “We spent more than a year considering regulations even before the law was enacted, and then a critical nine months, round the clock, getting up to speed with critical practical issues before we flicked the switch.” But that was only the beginning.  The real test began when gaming sites went live in November 2013.  New Jersey is one of only three states, along with Nevada and Delaware that made online gaming a legal, regulated reality for their residents.  Numerous other states have either already introduced bills or are considering doing so.  Some have brick and mortar establishments in their state, others do not, but each interested jurisdiction is watching to see if those states that have launched gaming have the success they hoped for.  “The learning curve continues as we deal with any real time issues. We knew we would have to tweak the system as we went along, and will continue to do so.  The ability to add mobile gaming alternatives is just one of those new additions.”  Continue reading

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It’s “Green Friday” – First of Full Tilt Remission Payments Roll Out to Players

 

After being separated from their money for almost three years, some U.S. players began today to see the the first of the Full Tilt Poker remissions payments.  Sometime after midnight, depending on the bank, some players began to notice a pending deposit from the Department of Justice.

More than 30,000 players from the “old” Full Tilt, were approved to receive more than $ 80 million of money that was rightfully theirs but was gone from the poker site when it was time to withdraw it in 2011. The original Full Tilt Poker was one of the companies shut down in 2011 on Black Friday, and players account balances on the site were frozen. Although various cover-ups and excuses delayed the inevitable, by summer 2011, it was clear that the owners and operators of the disgraced website did not have the money in the coffers that belonged to its players.

PokerStars, the Isle of Man online poker company, was also targeted by the U.S. DOJ in the sting, but once the U.S. gave permission for players money to be repaid to them, even with charges still pending at the time against the company, that money was available for players beginning only six weeks after it was locked up.  The original Full Tilt paid nothing to its US players, because the money was gone.

PokerStars settled their civil suit with the U.s. DOJ in July 2012, paying almost $ 750 million.  As part of that settlement, enough money was to be earmarked to repay former Full Tilt customers in the US. It was never confirmed by DOJ at the time of settlement that 100% of player balances would be repaid, but indeed, that became clear recently. The original Full Tilt Poker owed more than $ 330 million to its worldwide customers when it forfeited its assets in 2012.  Those FTP customers outside the US at the time the complaint was unsealed became known as “rest of world” customers and Pokerstars directly made payments to those FTP customers beginning in November 2012.  U.S customers of the site were forced to apply to claim their own money thru the remissions process. It’s taken since the settlement on July 31, 2012 until today for any US player to receive even their first dollar. Garden City Group are the administrators of the remissions process for US players.

It should be noted that Pokerstars acquired some assets of the defunct Full Tilt Poker website from the DOJ as part of their civil settlement and the Full Tilt Poker online gaming site in operation now is the one belonging to PokerStars, not the disgraced site that belonged to its former owners that shorted its customers more than $ 300 million, although the name of the site remains the same.

Not All US Players being Reunited with Their Money Just Yet

This first rollout of payments is only to those customers that filed a timely claim in November 2013 and had undisputed balances.  Some players found FTP records to be in error as to what those account balances should be and have had to provide documentation as to their limbo funds and old bounced checks from FTP that were never honored. Those claims are now being reviewed.

Many players were also tagged as “affiliates” and were originally told they would be ineligible to apply for their repayment.  The Garden City Group was inept in determining what affiliates really were, relying only on the word “affiliate” appearing on spreadsheets as enough to nix deserving players from being reunited with their funds.  After getting a schooling, they reopened to the process and players that had been tagged as “affiliates” will be eligible to file claims and have those claims reviewed on a case-by-case basis separately from the other claimants.

It is the position of the DOJ that steering players to an unlicensed site is illegal and therefore affiliate funds for doing that, if they were part of a players account balance, are not recoverable by the player. Players that received “rakeback” into their accounts should not be affected by the “affiliate” issue, although some reported they have been.  Players that legitimately player poker on the site, but also acted as a small affiliate, will reportedly receive their balances minus the affiliate payments.  Large affiliate sites that used a player account to only collect affiliate payments from the company would not be eligible for repayment.

With only half the money earmarked for US players being approved to date, there will be still months forward where additional claims of disputed balances and affiliate tags are reviewed and hopefully paid out.

DiamondFlushPoker will update as more information becomes available.

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Federal Judge Dismisses All Charges Against Gaming Attorney by Former Client

 

In April 2013, former internet poker payment processor Chad Elie filed a lawsuit against one of his former attorneys claiming that he would not have been incarcerated had he known certain facts.  Elie filed the suit against gaming attorney Jeff Ifrah and his firm, alleging Ifrah had withheld legal opinions that processing for online poker was illegal. In the complaint, Elie said had he known these opinions existed, he would have ceased processing.  The complaint also alleged that Ifrah’s firm collected commissions from that continued processing, and that the attorney provided testimony to the U.S. Attorneys office against Elie, which resulted in the processor being indicted on what is known as internet poker’s “Black Friday”, April 15, 2011. No offers of proof were included in the complaint.

Following his indictment, Elie spent a year preparing for trial to fight the charges, but changed his plea to guilty just days before the trial was to have begun.  As part of his plea agreement, Elie surrendered $ 500,000. and received a 5 month prison sentence.  He was released last May.

None of the allegations in the complaint were made by Elie prior to its filing and the complaint was amended several times.  After having been moved to Federal Court, the case was before Judge James C. Mahan. After months of review, Mahan dismissed all the charges against Ifrah citing the fact that Elie swore at his sentencing that he knew his actions were illegal and that none of his conduct had relied on any advice of counsel.

Jeff Ifrah offered the following statement exclusively to Diamond Flush Poker:

“While it was incredibly disappointing that a former client would make such wild allegations against me and my firm, one positive outcome is that it gave me a first-hand understanding of what defendants go through when facing irrational, false and highly defamatory charges, including what it takes to emerge victorious. The experience has further reinforced my resolve to defend the innocent and advocate against predatory accusers like Elie and their attorneys.”

Diamond Flush Poker contacted the attorney for Mr. Elie, Sigal Chattah, but has at publication time, received no comment.  The article will be updated if a comment is forthcoming.

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The Coalition For Consumer and Online Protection Takes On Adelson and Others Opposing Online Gaming

As reported earlier this morning by Politico, there is a new game in town. Pointing to preserving states rights and keeping an internet ban off the table of the Federal Government, a newly formed coalition has made a commitment to fight the opposition of internet gaming.

The Coalition for Consumer and Online Protection issued its first press release today stating its goals to dispell the myths being publicized by billionaire Sheldon Adelson and his supporters. Adelson, chairman and CEO of the Las Vegas Sands Corporation, the parent company of The Venetian Resort and the Sands Expo Center in Las Vegas, the Sands Casino in Macau, and the Sands Casino in Bethlehem Pennsylvania, has been vocal about his commitment to “shut down the internet” including having his representative Andy Abboud testify before Congress. Adelson has vowed to take whatever steps are necessary to implement a federal ban on online gaming, reinstating and reenforcing what he says the Wire Act of 1961 was meant to do.  In December 2011, the Department of Justice made public an opinion from their Office of Legal Counsel stating that the Wire Act referred only to games of sport/sportsbetting, clearing the way for legal online gaming to be enacted in the U.S.  To date, Nevada, New Jersey and Delaware have passed laws allowing online gaming and all have launched sites with staunch regulations and restrictions in place to dispel myths saying it cannot be done.    Continue reading

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Caesars Helps Atlantic Club put 1600 People Out of Work, Because They Can

atlantic clubWhen the Atlantic Club filed for bankruptcy, everyone believed that they had a buyer waiting in the wings, waiting to save the casino, and the jobs of more than 1600 employees, by paying a bargain price.  Such was not the case.  As the court signed off on the terms already agreed to by the parties behind closed doors of the Atlantic Club’s attorneys and bidders, the bottom line became public.  Lawyers for Colony Capital, owners of the casino, had not taken the highest bid for the property, but instead agreed to sell it to Caesars Entertainment for $ 15 million,  with slot machines and tables going to Atlantic City’s Tropicana for another $ 8.4 million.  The nail in the coffin followed, Caesars had no intention of not only never reopening the casino, but not even operating the hotel.

Boom, 1660 people out of work, just like that.  It was already known that Atlantic Club had a debt of approximately $ 32 million for the unfunded employee pension plan which would be discharged as part of the bankruptcy, so not only do all those employees have no job, they also have no pension.  Obligated to have enough funding available to operate during the process, the casino gained available financing for up to $ 15 million from a hedge fund of Northern Lights in Ohio, but that money runs out on January 13, and the doors will close.   Continue reading

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What Caesars Really Wants From Their Lawsuit in Massachusetts, and Why

massgamingRecently, Caesars filed a suit against the Massachusetts Gaming Commission and  Chairman Steven Crosby, for violations of Caesars due process and equal protection via the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments of the Constitution. They also cited tortious interference against Crosby individually for interfering in the relationship of Caesars and Suffolk Downs Racecourse.  Suffolk Downs had originally picked Caesars to be their operating partner for a casino yet to be built in Massachusetts, but when questions arose about the possible suitability questions of their partner, the Racetrack asked them to back out, and they did.

In the lawsuit filed, Caesars claim all kinds of mistreatment by Crosby and the commission. They make several assumptions that certain alleged actions by the commission were made at the behest of Crosby, but there is no evidence cited to make those assumptions true. They even took the opportunity to throw their “friend” MGM under the bus, citing possible implications for MGM re that company’s suitability because of what was on the record in New Jersey since 2009 regarding MGM’s relationship with a possible element tied to organized crime.  MGM have since made changes to that aforementioned connection and have now reapplied to be reconsidered in New Jersey.  That process is ongoing.  After Caesars filed their lawsuit, Massachusetts voted unanimously to find MGM suitable for licensing.  Continue reading

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Owners Of Atlantic Club Should Never Get Another License

atlantic club  Any moment now we expect to learn who might be saving the Atlantic Club in Atlantic City from closing its doors. The Casino, owned by Los Angeles based private equity firm Colony Capital, filed for bankruptcy protection and put itself on the auction block.  For the last few weeks, discussions have been ongoing with interested companies and bid proposals have been discussed during the last few days, not in an open courtroom, but behind closed doors. One can only hope the new buyer plans to keep it as a casino.

Speculation is rampant as to who might be interested in buying the casino/hotel for a bargain basement price, including current casino owners in town, local hedge funds and interested internet gaming companies from the US and abroad.  As part of their bankruptcy filing, The Atlantic Club, listed numerous debts to creditors, including an unfunded employee pension fund. While they listed the value of the fund at “unknown”, reports earlier this year were that the pension fund was short approximately $ 32 million.  While the judge handling the bankruptcy has some discretion, it is commonly believed that the pension fund liability will be discharged when the bankruptcy is complete.  The list of employees with an interest in that fund hovers around 2000 names and more than 1600 current employees are now unsure whether they will have a job tomorrow or how they will manage without their retirement funds.   Continue reading

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New Jersey Holding PokerStars at Bay for up to Two Years

The Division of Gamng Enforcement in New Jersey has issued a statement confirming they have suspended the internet gaming application of PokerStars for a two year period.

DGE’s official statement reads as follows:

The Division of Gaming Enforcement has determined that the application of Rational Services Limited (PokerStars) casino service industry licensure (CSIE) will be held in a suspended status for a period of two years.   The Division, within that period, may consider a request for relief to reactivate the application if significantly changed circumstances are demonstrated at which time the Division’s investigation of Pokerstars and its affiliated entities and associated individuals will be resumed to assess suitability.   The Division’s determination is based primarily on the unresolved federal indictment against Isai Scheinberg for the alleged violation of federal gambling statutes, namely, the Illegal Gambling Business Act and the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA), and the involvement of certain PokerStars executives with Internet gaming operations in the United State following the enactment of UIGEA.

 

PokerStars founder, Isai Scheinberg was named in the 2011 SDNY Black Friday indictments targeting offshore internet gaming operators. His personal case is still unresolved. PokerStars, the world’s largest internet poker site, settled their company’s civil ligation with SDNY in July 2012, admitting no wrongdoing. As part of that settlement, Scheinberg agreed to give up any directorship or managerial role within the company, although that was a stipulation that could be revisited at some future date.  It appears that although the application in New Jersey has been suspended, that with significant changes at the company, that suspension as well, might be revisited.

Eric Hollreiser, Director of Corporate Communications at PokerStars offered the following comment:

“We are disappointed that the NJ Division of Gaming Enforcement has suspended the review of our application at this time. We note that the DGE will resume the review of our application if our circumstances change.  We will remain in open dialogue with the DGE and will update them on changes in our situation as they occur.”

The law requires that internet gaming permits be only issued to brick and mortar casinos in Atlantic City and PokerStars had partnered with Resorts Hotel & Casino in Atlantic City to bring online gaming to New Jersey. After launching just a few weeks ago, Caesars, Ballys (owned by Caesars), Taj Mahal, Trump Plaza and Borgata are the only casinos with active online poker sites (WSOP, 888, Ultimate Gaming, Betfair, Borgata Poker and Party Poker respectively). Harrahs (also owned by Caesars), Tropicana and its partner VirginGaming offer casino sites. Ultimate offers casino-style gaming as well as poker.  Tropicana has plans to bring online poker to their site in the future and Golden Nugget remains in soft-launch mode until they receive formal full approval.

This article will be updated as new details become available.

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The Teflon CEO and the Gift of UIGEA

The last few weeks have brought Caesars Interactive CEO Mitch Garber media attention in a way that’s very different than what most executives consider good public relations. Last month, the Massachusetts Gaming Commission released a report citing why they had concerns that Caesars Entertainment may be found unsuitable for licensing in their state.  One of those reasons, was the gaming history of Caesars Mitch Garber, who came to the company in 2009 after leaving Party Gaming.

Before ever going to Party, Garber was the CEO of the Canadian Company Firepay and Firepay was later acquired by Optimal Payments, where he held the title as well. Both companies were known to have processed payments for online gaming, including poker, sportsbetting and casino style games. 1.  This was commonplace during Garber’s tenure at the company.  After being the subject of DOJ seizures, Optimal settled with the US attorneys office (SDNY) in 2009, stating in part that:

 Optimal admitted that it recognized that the merchants that their subsidiaries processed for violated certain U.S. criminal statutes, namely: 18 U.S. C.  1084 and 18 U.S.C.  1955,  The Wire Act and IGBA, respectively.

Optimal also went on to acquire the ewallet Neteller, the preemminent source for handling monetary transactions in the US related to online gaming.  Again after significant seizures by the US DOJ, Neteller agreed to a deferred prosecution agreement with SDNY, forfeiting $ 136 million and admitting it had operated in the United States as an unlicensed money transmitting business and had participated in the performance of financial transactions for the purpose of promoting unlawful transactions between internet gambling merchants and persons located in the U.S.  The co-founders of Neteller, Steven Lawrence and John Lefebvre were both arrested and charged criminally in the U.S. Courts.  Both defendants pled guilty to charges of conspiracy to conduct illegal Internet gambling transactions.  Continue reading

Footnotes

  1. Accepting wagers for sports betting in the US was always considered illegal by virtue of the Wire act, a matter now believed settled by the Legal Opinion of the U.S. DOJ in December 2011.
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