skill games and pokerstars NJ
Industry Updates

New Jersey Updates: Skill Games and PokerStars Coming to NJ

Angry birds for real money? PokerStars? Yes, some familiar names may soon be making an appearance on the New Jersey gambling scene. Two recent developments this week paint an interesting future for Garden State gamblers.

First, New Jersey casino floors may soon play host to real money skill games. So far, everything from free throw competitions to Guitar Hero have been named as potential outlets for gamblers looking for something other than the traditional offerings one would expect to see at an Atlantic City casino.

In other news, the PokerStars brand could be re-entering New Jersey within the next month. Former online poker players should be familiar with the name. At one point, PokerStars was the largest US-friendly poker site on the planet. Their withdrawal from the market in 2011 left players with few legitimate options and signaled the end of the Golden Age of online poker in the United States.

Skill Games Coming Soon

Real money games of skill may soon be showing up in Atlantic City casinos and possibly even at legal New Jersey betting sites. It is no secret that AC casinos have hit hard times in recent years, and the state is exploring all options. Games of skill would allow casinos to offer not only physical competitions such as free throw contests, but also video games and other competitions.

CBS Philly reports that game developers are already hard at work transitioning titles as diverse as Guitar Hero, Angry Birds and Words with Friends for play in a real money casino environment. No official word has come out about offering these games online, but nothing in the legislation indicates that New Jersey’s online casinos will be prohibited from also joining the skill bandwagon.

Adding games of skill could provide a boost to the struggling gaming industry in Atlantic City. Younger players already have so many other alternatives in their homes and back pockets in the form of video game consoles and smartphones. These games offer a deeper experience than simply spinning a slot machine over and over. The letter announcing the regulations specifically mentioned a desire to connect with millenials who are already familiar with skill based gaming.

The New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement (DGE) originally authorized skill games back in October of 2014, but the industry requested additional information regarding regulations for these games. The DGE finally responded with a letter spelling out the regulations on Tuesday.

The regulations cover a variety of topics ranging from payout rates to how games must be explained to players. You can see the full list of regulations here, but two in particular stood out as the most representative of the general theme:

  • Except as otherwise disclosed to the player, once a game containing a skill based feature is initiated, no aspect or function of the gaming device may altered during the play of the game based on the skill of the patron to make an event more or less likely to occur
  • Slot machine games with a skill based component shall be required to theoretically pay out a mathematically demonstrable percentage of all amounts wagered, which shall not be less than 83 percent for each wager available for play on the device

Now that the regulations are live, nothing is stopping New Jersey casinos and betting sites from implementing games of skill. So now, we’ll just wait and see if those games come out and how popular they prove to be.

The Triumphant Return of PokerStars

Earlier today, ABC News reported that PokerStars will begin operating in New Jersey on March 21st. PokerStars’ parent company, Amaya, earned approval in November. PokerStars has been trying to gain access to the New Jersey market since 2011, but DGE officials delayed the process due to concerns over former executives who were involved in PokerStars continuing to take wagers from US customers after 2006.

The new PokerStars platform will offer online poker as well as regular casino games such as blackjack and slots for residents of New Jersey. Competing betting sites are probably not breaking out the champagne tonight. PokerStars is a juggernaut in online gambling. Not only is the name brand still recognized in the US, but this is a large and experience company with serious resources at its disposal. This can only be a good thing for the players.

PokerStars has an interesting history in the United States. In years past, they acted as the largest, most highly-trafficked poker site for US players. They even played a key role in kicking off the online poker boom by hosting an online satellite tournament that resulted in an accountant named Chris Moneymaker playing in the World Series of Poker.

In what would later become known as the Moneymaker effect, Chris Moneymaker won the WSOP in very public fashion. Word of him entering the WSOP through an online satellite spread across the nation and helped instigate the online poker boom.

In 2006, the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA) was passed in an effort to curb online gambling and poker. The Act did not target individual players. Instead, it told financial institutions (such as banks and payment processors) that serving offshore gaming sites would now be a criminal act.

PokerStars and other poker sites continued doing business in the US by making use of “creative” financial transactions. Business continued mostly as usual until a 2011 action by the Department of Justice found PokerStars and other sites weren’t just using “creative” transactions; they were participating in money laundering.

So, PokerStars left the US in 2011 and paid a half-a-billion dollar fine to the DOJ. They never admitted to any criminal acts and avoided any further legal action. Since then, PokerStars has continued to do very well on the international stage.

The return of the beloved PokerStars brand will be a welcome sight for gamblers in New Jersey. For the most part, those of us who were active in the good old days look back fondly on how well PokerStars treated customers and ran its games. For the first time since 2011, US citizens will have access to the poker site that helped kick start the online poker boom.

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