Last week’s approval by shareholders of Amaya’s takeover of the Oldford-Rational group and its market-dominant online poker subsidiaries Pokerstars and Full Tilt largely completed the conditions necessary for the sale but represent just the beginning of a potentially massive international future for the company.
Major obstacles envisaged for the $4.9 billion takeover, due to complete by the end of the third quarter of this year, have now been overcome:
* The departure of Oldford-Rational founding family Isai and Mark Scheinberg;
* Raising the necessary finance;
* The approval of the licensing jurisdictions involved;
* The approval of Amaya’s home stock exchange in Toronto, Canada.
The acquisition makes Amaya the biggest business group in the online industry and caps a seemingly unstoppable growth curve that in comparatively recent years that has seen it acquire well-established online companies such as Chartwell Technology, Cryptologic, Cadillac Jack and Ongame, and enter into business relationships with a host of major industry companies.
The implications for Pokerstars and Full Tilt are enormous; the departure of the Scheinbergs and the change of ownership should make it possible for Rational to take a run at access to the huge United States market, where its former owners previously presented a hurdle in terms of enforcement indictments.
It will be a fiercely contested battle; vested interests already in the market have shown their protectionist colours and a determination to create laws that seek to exclude major competitive threats like Pokerstars by using a history of legal debate on often confusing American state and federal laws like the Wire Act, and clauses that deploy “bad actor” exclusions based on past events.
For Full Tilt, it will mean a more diverse future; it has already started offering online casino action in addition to poker, although at present it appears that Pokerstars will stay focused on the poker business.
The two Rational group brands are far and away the biggest and best known operators on the international market, with Pokerscout and other independent estimates – and the companies’ own disclosures – suggesting a playerbase in excess of 85 million and an international market share somewhere north of 65 percent.
The nearest rival commands around 6 percent, illustrating just how powerful a force the combined Amaya entities represent in a market that still has room for growth in Asia, South America and of course the United States, where prior to Black Friday in 2011 Pokerstars and Full Tilt were believed to hold 80 percent market share between them despite the difficult operating conditions.
Full Tilt and Pokerstars – especially the latter – also bring to the table an enviably strong presence and brand awareness in the international live poker tournament vertical, being closely associated with global brands like LAPT, APPT, PCA and EPT (Latin America Poker Tour, Asia-Pacific Poker Tour, Pokerstars Caribbean Adventure and the European Poker Tour).
In its investor road show, Amaya has already given an indication of its objectives, which include:
* Maintaining dominance in the online and live tournament global poker market;
* Expand influence in the $3.5 billion annual global online casino sector with new technology developments and games;
* Enter the possibly $16 billion a year online sportsbook market – probably next year;
* Access the United States online gaming and live tournament market as a priority;
* Develop a market in the Asia-Pacific region;
* Widen the appeal and impact of PokerstarsPlay in the social gaming vertical – particularly on Facebook.
Considering its priority of entering the US market, if Amaya can achieve access to the United States for its Pokerstars and Full Tilt brands, it could have benefits for everyone except its competitors.
The savvy and experienced group management at headquarters level in both Montreal and on the Isle of Man remains largely unchanged, ensuring that the high standards of fair play, product quality and diversity, business efficiency, customer care and solid promotional activity will continue…that has to be good for the players.
Rational has a sound record for involvement in the communities where it operates, and that will have advantages as it extends its commercial penetration elsewhere.
On the regulatory front, these companies have been meeting compliance requirements in some of the world’s toughest licensing jurisdictions for decades, and are unlikely to present regulatory hassles for the regulators in states like New Jersey, Delaware and Nevada…and those likely to legalise in the years ahead such as California, New York, Pennsylvania and Illinois.
The infusion of professionalism, capital and sheer marketing expertise that Pokerstars represents will undoubtedly expand the market and benefit hosting states in terms of jobs and service facilities, although the boost to tax revenues it can make is probably of more interest to the politicians.
Amaya share prices on the Toronto exchange are already showing remarkable growth, up by more than five-times this year alone; that is perhaps the best reflection of investor sentiment on the potential of this new online gaming giant and its future prospects.