Caesars Interactive gets New Jersey nod, still no word on PokerStars

new-jersey-caesars-interactiveCaesars Interactive Entertainment (CIE) will definitely be among the companies participating in Thursday’s launch of New Jersey’s online gambling trial period, while PokerStars will not. On Wednesday, the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement (DGE) released its latest list of approved internet gaming permit holders, which added two Caesars Entertainment Atlantic City casinos – Caesars and Bally’s – to the five casinos already so authorized. CIE was also deemed worthy of playing in New Jersey’s online gambling pond, which officially opens for business on Nov. 26, assuming the trial period goes off without a hitch.

CIE and its brand will utilize the Caesars permit, although the back end will (for the time being) be provided by 888 Holdings, just as with the Nevada-facing site. 888 will offer its own branded site through the Bally’s permit, which 888 hopes to eventually link with its All American Poker Network. Caesars’ plans for its Harrah’s and Showboat properties have yet to be revealed, although Wynn Interactive is expected to use a Caesars permit if/when Wynn receives its own DGE approval.

The roster of internet approved casinos already included the Borgata, the Golden Nugget, the Trump Taj Mahal, the Tropicana and the Trump Plaza. Two more casinos – Revel and the Atlantic Club – have financial concerns that will preclude them from going online anytime soon, leaving only Resorts Atlantic City and its PokerStars partner out in the cold. A DGE spokesman said the online application by PokerStars’ parent outfit the Rational Group remains under review, but that no further transactional waivers would be issued Wednesday.

Late Wednesday afternoon, Stars spokesman Eric Hollresiser tweeted the following: “Our conversations with NJ DGE are continuing, however it is now apparent that we will not have approval in place to launch on Nov. 26. We remain committed to working with the Division to complete the review process.”

Also not in Thursday’s starting gate is the US offshoot of Irish betting operator Paddy Power. While the Paddsters have been deemed ‘eligible’ for a New Jersey online transactional waiver, the firm has yet to strike a partnership with a brick-and-mortar casino in Atlantic City. What’s more, CEO Patrick Kennedy told analysts that he felt the market would suffer from overly fragmented poker liquidity and a “highly competitive B2C landscape,” including grey market operators still serving New Jersey customers. Kennedy wasn’t ruling out a future entry into the Garden State or other US states, but appears content to sit this one out for the time being.

Before the DGE’s announcement, the state Casino Control Commission (CCC) put CIE CEO Mitch Garber through the wringer regarding his past associations with PartyGaming and Optimal Payments, both of which dealt with US customers before passage of the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA) in 2006. Garber’s checkered past was recently cited by Massachusetts gaming regulators as partially responsible for its rejection of Caesars’ bid for a Boston-area casino license.

Garber told the CCC that he never knowingly violated US law but that if he had, he’d done so after receiving legal opinions that his actions were above board. CCC chairman Matthew Levinson bought Garber’s line, stating that “there appears to be a basis to support” Garber’s assertion that the legality of his pre-UIGEA activities was sufficiently vague to cut him some slack. The CCC also determined that the recent restructuring of Caesars’ online operations away from its debt-laden parent meant that CIE had “established its financial stability.”

Speaking of, while many New Jersey residents are treating Wednesday as the night before online gambling Christmas, Moody’s Investors Service played the Grinch by announcing it was cutting Atlantic City’s credit rating one notch to Baa2. The shift affects $219m of the city’s debt.