Amaya Gaming Group Inc. became the world’s largest publicly-traded online gaming enterprise on June 12th, 2014, following the company’s purchase of Rational Group Ltd. – the parent company of PokerStars and Full Tilt Poker.
Agreeing to pay an aggregate purchase price of $4.9 billion, the publicly-traded Canadian gaming firm effectively removed founders Isai Scheinberg and his son Mark Scheinberg from their roles within the PokerStars hierarchy. In doing so, Amaya helped pave the way for PokerStars to resume operations within the United States, following the site’s abrupt departure from the American marketplace in the wake of “Black Friday” in 2011.
In a press release issued to announce the purchase, David Baazov, who serves as CEO of Amaya, stated the following:
“This is a transformative acquisition for Amaya, strengthening our core B2B operations with a consumer online powerhouse that creates a scalable global platform for growth. Mark Scheinberg pioneered the online poker industry, building a remarkable business and earning the trust of millions of poker players by delivering the industry’s best game experiences, customer service and online security. Working with the experienced executive team at Rational Group, Amaya will continue that tradition of excellence and accelerate growth into new markets and verticals.”
PokerStars executives, most of whom were retained by Amaya to continue operating the online poker titan, echoed this sentiment in their own press release:
“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. 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.”
Originally conceived by the elder Scheinberg in 2001, and later shepherded to unparalleled success by his son, PokerStars rose to become the preeminent online poker room on the planet in short order. By the time Chris Moneymaker parlayed a $27 buy-in satellite tournament on PokerStars into a $2.5 million win at the World Series of Poker Main Event in 2003, the site had become synonymous with online poker.
PokerStars stands as the centerpiece of Amaya’s purchase, having withstood the Department of Justice’s onslaught in 2011 while repaying every penny of player funds to American players after its post-Black Friday withdraw from the U.S. market. When rival site Full Tilt Poker was left in shambles following the governmental intervention, unable to reimburse player funds following years of fraudulent mismanagement, PokerStars stepped in as a saving grace, purchasing its fallen rival and ageing to repay American players in excess of $180 million. This move came as part of a wider settlement with the DOJ, one designed to allow for PokerStars’ return to the U.S. market in jurisdictions that have since legalized and regulated online poker.
While several key states, including Nevada and New Jersey, were wary of allowing so-called “bad actors” – or company executives like the Scheinbergs who willfully disregarded the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA) of 2006 – to return, Amaya’s purchase appears to have remedied those concerns. By purchasing Rational Group Ltd, and thus removing the Scheinberg connection to PokerStars, Amaya places itself in prime position at the forefront of a potential second online poker boom.
Poker industry watchdogs, along with players spanning the spectrum from recreational to professional, have expressed optimism at Amaya’s entrance into the realm of regulated online poker. John Pappas, Executive Director of the Poker Player’s Alliance (PPA) expressed this sentiment in a press release issued on behalf of the PPA shortly after the acquisition became public:
“This is encouraging news for millions of American players who have anxiously awaited the return of PokerStars to the U.S. Amaya’s acquisition should remove any perceived impediment for this popular brand to once again be available to players in regulated U.S. jurisdictions. This is a positive development for poker enthusiasts and the potential return of the PokerStars brand will grow our game.”
A week before the purchase was announced shares of Amaya stock sat at 10.20, and one day after that number rose to 18.35. The stock’s price peaked at 33.83 per share on November 28th, 2014, and today the price sits at around 16.50.