Just over a month ago, the Wall Street Journal first reported that Rational Group, the owner of online poker giant PokerStars, was interested in purchasing a New Jersey casino in order to re-enter the U.S. Now, according to the Press of Atlantic City, Rational Group has moved forward with the purchase of the Atlantic Club Casino in Atlantic City.
On Tuesday, Rational Group Head of Corporate Communications Eric Hollreiser confirmed to PokerNews that the company has agreed to acquire the casino from Resorts International Holdings. Hollreiser added that the transaction is pending the grant of an Interim Casino Authorization by the relevant New Jersey authorities.
The division has up to 90 days to conduct its investigation and file a report with Casino Control Commission. The commission then has up to 30 days to conduct the hearing and make a final decision. The sale would close after final regulatory approval from the New Jersey Casino Control Commission.
If approved, it would mark the first time an Internet gaming company has acquired a brick-and-mortar casino in Atlantic City. The Rational Group says it "intends to improve the financial viability of the property" in the struggling seaside city.
"The acquisition of The Atlantic Club Casino Hotel will secure up to 2,000 jobs and maintain the economic benefits the casino brings to New Jersey," Hollreiser said. "During this interim period, the Atlantic Club Casino Hotel will operate as normal under current management, who will be retained following completion of the acquisition.”
The Atlantic Club Casino could be the early focus of PokerStars' strategy to reenter the online poker market in the States. Last month, New Jersey lawmakers approved a bill that would authorize Atlantic City casinos to offer online poker and casino games. The bill is now awaiting the approval of Gov. Chris Christie, who has until Feb. 4 to act on it.
Rational Group exited the U.S. market on April 15, 2011, but the company settled with the Department of Justice in August 2012 while admitting no wrongdoing. Rational Group forfeited $731 million to the U.S. and acquired the assets of former PokerStars rival Full Tilt Poker. As part of the deal, Rational Group repaid all of Full Tilt Poker's non-U.S. customers and relaunched the online poker room in much of the world.
The deal with the DOJ allows Rational Group to apply for a gaming license once the applicable laws are passed. If approved for a license, the company could rebrand the Atlantic Club poker room and use the casino as a platform to rebuild its customer base in the U.S.