New CEO Appointed As Part Of Major Changes At PokerStars

Rational Group, the division of Amaya that runs PokerStars, hired a new CEO as well as made changes to their ROW programs with rewards programs and others.

There are major changes underway at the world’s largest poker site along with a change in leadership. On Wednesday, the Rational Group announced that Rafa Ashkenazi has been named CEO for the company.

Rafi Ashkenazi takes over as CEO of Rational Group

According to GamingIntelligence.com, Rafi Ashkenazi has been named the new Chief Executive Officer of the Rational Group. Rational Group is the division of Amaya that’s responsible for PokerStars and Full Tilt Poker.

Ashkenazi had been serving as Senior VP of Strategy since earlier this year and reported directly to David Baazov. Previously, he had served as COO of Rational Group dating back to January 2013. Prior to joining Rational Group in 2013, he served as COO of Playtech.

According to Amaya CEO David Baazov:

“Rafi has been working very closely this year with our executive management team and returns to Rational Group with an even greater knowledge of our corporate strategy, vision and goals. Combining this knowledge with his operational expertise makes him an ideal leader for the Rational Group.”

Ashkenazi also commented on his new position, stating, “I look forward to re-joining the excellent team at Rational Group and working with them to continue to extend our leadership in online gaming.”

“We have great opportunities in the near future with our upcoming launch in New Jersey, the expansion of our casino and sports-betting businesses and our mission to grow the poker category.”

Ashkenazi will replace Michael Hazel as CEO of the Rational Group. Hazel is rumored to be one of the four employees that Amaya must terminate before PokerStars can launch in New Jersey.  

Ashkenazi will officially take over in his new role on November 9.

Shift comes after announcement of major changes for ROW players

Ashkenazi’s promotion comes just three days after PokerStars announced sweeping changes to the PokerStars experience for players outside of the United States. The first announcement, and one heralded by many, is that the company will continue its push to eliminate client access for HUD’s and other third-party data mining software. This change was done to attempt to level the playing field.

The other major announcement was not as well received. PokerStars announced sweeping changes to their VIP and rewards program that will significant impact it high volume and high stakes players.

Among those changes are a significant reduction in overall benefits and the elimination of VPP’s for high stake games. Furthermore, Supernova Elite players will have capped benefits in 2016 followed by the program being eliminated in 2017.

The reduction in benefits will range anywhere from 10% all the way to 60% for some SNE players. Numerous pros spoke out on the matter, calling it an apparent money grab by the site. Dani Stern, aka Ansky, was among the most vocal and stated that the new rewards program would cut approximately $50,000 per year from his bankroll.

The only players to see an increase in benefits are ChromeStar players who will see a 10% increase. According to Stern, that will equate to an average increase of 30 cents per month in rewards for ChromeStar players.

It is unknown at this time what type of rewards will be available for PokerStars NJ but it is expected that a similar program that’s offered to the ROW will be launched when operations begin in 2016.

PokerStars NJ Online Poker Approval Comes With Conditions

Amaya Inc. has been issued a Transactional Waiver with Conditions with regards to the reentry of PokerStars into the United States online gaming industry.

The New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement released a pair of documents surrounding the licensing of PokerStars and Full Tilt. First, they released the 89-page report on their investigation of the purchase of PokerStars by Amaya last year.

Next, they released the transactional waiver to the public, one that is contingent on Amaya meeting certain conditions.

Transactional waiver issued – with conditions

Since last week’s announcement that Amaya would be licensed in New Jersey, we have been waiting on the official text of the transactional waiver and the DGE’s findings on their investigation. We finally received both on Friday.

The transactional waiver for Amaya and Resorts is a bit different from those issued to other entities in New Jersey. Their waiver actually is a “Transactional Waiver With Conditions,” with Amaya being required to meet certain conditions in order to operate and to continue operations in New Jersey.

The conditions that Amaya must meet are as follows:

• Amaya shall transfer the remaining funds of any New Jersey players that were not paid after Black Friday (April 15, 2011.) These funds must be in the state’s possession before PokerStars can operate in New Jersey.
• Four individuals presently employed by Amaya that also worked for pre-Black Friday PokerStars must be terminated. The DGE determined they “failed to establish the requisite good character, honesty and integrity required by the Act due to their involvement in the business activities of the PokerStars Entities between the enactment of UIGEA and Black Friday.” These employees must be fired by January 30, 2016.
• The following people are not permitted to be part of the company in any aspect – Isai Scheinberg, Mark Scheinberg, Pinhas Schapira, Yehuda Nir, Paul Telford, Paul Tate, Nelson Burtnick, Ray Bitar, Rafael Furst, or Chris Ferguson. The DGE is even requiring that Amaya contact them if any of these individuals so much as even contacts Amaya.
• The minutes of meetings of the Amaya Board of Directors, Compliance Committee and Audit Committee meeting must be submitted to the DGE along with any supporting documentation within 15 days of said meetings.
• Any complaints brought against Amaya, their subsidiaries or employees must be reported to the DGE.
• Amaya must keep the DGE informed on any expansions of gaming activities or new business conducted. Also, if their agreement with Resorts changes in any way, the DGE must be contacted in five business days.
• Finally, all business records must be available to the DGE for inspection whenever they demand them.

Seeing that these conditions must be met before PokerStars is permitted to operate a NJ online gambling site, it is unlikely that the launch will be a quick one. It now appears that those suggesting an early 2016 launch may be correct.

DOJ settlement and Amaya purchase led to licensing

In addition to the transactional waiver, the DGE also issued an 89-page report regarding the purchase of PokerStars and Full Tilt by Amaya, Inc. The report showed that PokerStars earned $44.3 million from New Jersey residents between the passage of the UIGEA and the Black Friday shutdown.

After Black Friday, PokerStars returned $5.01 million to NJ residents. There’s presently $427,000 in player funds still unclaimed that PokerStars must turn over as a condition of their license.

Ultimately, several factors led to the DGE approving Amaya for a license. Some of them are as follows:

• The DOJ agreement with PokerStars that permits them to operate in the United States if they operate where it is legal to do so.
• The separation of the Scheinbergs’ ownership in the company.
• The removal of all employees and management connected with operating the companies pre-Black Friday. This includes the removal of four employees mentioned in the TW.

In short, the DGE determined that the Amaya-run PokerStars is indeed a new company and separate from the one that operated in the United State pre-Black Friday. This is a huge decision that will have a major impact on other states as they decide whether to license PokerStars. Now the poker world will sit back and wait to see when PokerStars NJ actually launches.

Finally! PokerStars And Full Tilt Approved To Operate In New Jersey

The NJ DGE finally announced that Amaya Inc. would be permitted to operate PokerStars and Full Tilt in the United States. They should start operating soon.

The million dollar poker question has finally been answered in New Jersey. On Wednesday, the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement announced that Amaya Inc. has received approval to operate PokerStars and Full Tilt in the state after a thorough investigation process that took over a year.

This marks PokerStars’ official return to the United States, this time in the regulated NJ online gambling marketplace.

PokerStars NJ and Full Tilt to operate under Resorts license

Now that Amaya has received approval to operate PokerStars and Full Tilt, they will do so in partnership with Resorts Casino in Atlantic City. The company had promised to build a PokerStars-themed poker room once their license was approved, so we can expect construction to begin on that room soon with a 2016 opening.

PokerStars quickly released a press release about their approval. Amaya CEO David Baazov was quoted at length in the release, stating:

“We are very pleased to add New Jersey to the long list of regulated markets that have found PokerStars and Full Tilt suitable to offer real-money online gaming.

I want to thank the DGE for their thorough and fair review of our business. We look forward to bringing our popular brands, innovative technology, marketing prowess and world-class security and game integrity to the growing New Jersey online gaming market. We anticipate providing additional details of our launch plans in the near future.”

Prolonged process produced the result most of the industry wanted

Last month, DGE Chairman David Rebuck stated that they were close to concluding their investigation of Amaya and their purchase of PokerStars back in August 2014. This process was extensive with the company taking over 80 sworn interviews and visiting several foreign countries. Rebuck also claimed that the decision would be monumental and ultimately released the decision that most of the industry was hoping for.

The news also coincides with the Global Gaming Expo in Las Vegas. On Wednesday, members from around the global gaming community discovered the news of PokerStars’ reentry into the United States at G2E. Most feel that PokerStars’ prescience in the United States is a positive one and most expect them to become the top site wherever they operate.

What’s next for PokerStars in New Jersey?

The obvious question is when PokerStars NJ will launch? Speculation has already started with some believing the site could be up and running by late October. Others feel that the site will launch sometime in December.

Of course, the most logical and appropriate date to launch PokerStars NJ would be on the two-year anniversary of the launch of NJ iGaming. November 21, 2015 can serve as both a celebration of the industry and a launch date for PokerStars NJ. It would also be a great way to build press for both.

Regardless of their launch date, expect advertising for the site to begin in New Jersey very shortly with tons of print and media ads for the coming site. It will be interesting to see which promotions and events they choose to launch in the early weeks after launching. This will go a long ways in determining how quickly they rise to the top of the NJ iPoker market.

Our early predictions is that PokerStars will start out the gates fast and will be the #2 iGaming site in the state from inception. Within three to six months, they will climb to the top of NJ iGaming and it is hard to see anyone dethroning them anytime soon.