In recent months, whispers have been heard throughout the industry that various companies might acquire online gaming giant PokerStars. One rumor was that Wynn was a potential buyer, with WilliamHill and Amaya Gaming as potential suitors as well. Others said that bwin.party had pitched a transaction to the Isle of Man-based company, but that it was for a sale, not a purchase.
As far-fetched as all of these might sound, there is something interesting about this recent banter. PokerStars’ actions have made it abundantly clear that they will not give up on the fight to be part of the reemerging online poker market in the US.
Industry insiders say that PokerStars’ CEO, Mark Scheinberg, has been building out the executive team to diminish his role, while simultaneously searching for his successor. If it were to prove true that he was looking to step aside, it’s quite possible that he would be a willing seller as well.
Historically, a lot of focus in the media has been on Stars’ founder Isai Scheinberg, but various insiders who interact with the very private company say Mark has long been leading the business, and that much of the company’s success in recent years should be credited to him. The younger Scheinberg is said to be on a mission to reenter the US market and open a new major office there.
The suspension of the company’s New Jersey application was apparently not only frustrating for Stars, but for the Division of Gaming Enforcement themselves, sources have said. PokerStars was reportedly ready to set up shop in the Garden State, open a major poker room and would undoubtedly grow the online market substantially from where it is today.
So far, the New Jersey market has performed far below initial estimates, making a reentry by Stars more attractive to the state than ever. Regardless, for the time being, the NJ stalemate continues, and Mark is said to be very focused on lobbying in California as well as PokerStars’ partnership with the Morongo tribe there. But as positive as things seem in California, it could be some time before the company’s hard work bears fruit in the Sunshine State.
With that said, it isn’t too hard to believe that Mark might be willing to shuffle some executives, including himself, or even sell if the price was right. This might hold even more true if the potential buyer was respectful and capable of growing the impressive brand they have been building for 14 years.
American players want nothing more to see PokerStars reenter the market. Stars, and the Scheinbergs, have done a lot for American poker players, from keeping their focus on poker, pushing for legislation, fighting the legality of the UIGEA, paying off American Full Tilt players and generally running a company and brand that represents the intelligence of the customers they serve. But would the company be the same without Mark Scheinberg running the show?
For the most part, the rumored buyers just don’t fit. The possible exception in the group is Wynn, who partnered with the site pre-Black Friday and has the cash for such a purchase. Either way, I think players can take comfort in the fact that if PokerStars does make a major change, they would only do so if it also benefited the poker community.