There was one name on the lips of every poker player this year, and it wasn’t Ivey, Hellmuth, or Negreanu.
Instead, it was Amaya Gaming, the Canadian firm that made the stunning purchase of PokerStars earlier this year.
It was the story that defined the year in online poker, and it’s likely that the repercussions of the sale will be felt throughout 2015 and beyond.
A Monumental Takeover
In early June, rumors began to swirl of the imminent purchase of the Rational Group, the parent company of both PokerStars and Full Tilt.
The supposed buyer was Amaya Gaming, a relatively little-known Canadian company that had previously purchased the Ongame Network from bwin.party in 2012.
Within days, the sale was confirmed. Amaya would acquire all of the assets of the Rational Group for the astounding price of $4.9 billion, a total that required an enormous amount of financing for the company.
The deal instantly made Amaya the largest publically traded online poker company in the world, and one of the true powerhouses in the Internet gaming industry.
One of the most important parts of the deal was the fact that Mark and Isai Scheinberg, founders of PokerStars, would be forced to remove themselves entirely from the operations of the Rational Group once the sale was completed.
This was critical to Amaya’s strategy for PokerStars, which involved returning the world’s largest online poker room to regulated markets where they had been unable to gain approvals, particularly in the United States.
PokerStars had been unable to make much progress with regulators in the United States. In Nevada, they were hamstrung by a bad actor clause that stopped them from even applying for an online gambling license, but in New Jersey, the situation was different.
There, state regulators were willing to listen, but had no interest in working with the Scheinbergs and other principals who either had outstanding legal issues with the US government or had been with the site while they were illegally operating in America.
While Amaya hasn’t yet managed to secure a New Jersey online gambling license, regulators have shown much more interest now that PokerStars is under new management.
While the process has taken longer than most observers anticipated, there’s still optimism that the company may return to the Garden State sometime next year.
Players Concerned With Changes Under New Owners
Almost from the time that Amaya announced the purchase of the Rational Group, some players expressed concerns that the giant, publically-owned company wouldn’t run PokerStars in the same way as it had been operated when it was a family-owned business.
A few months later, many players feel as though those fears are being realized.
Since the Amaya takeover, PokerStars has raised its rake in many games and cut back on some of their popular promotions.
They’ve also introduced the Spin and Go tournament format, a lottery style games that regulars say is killing other types of tournaments.
One of the most controversial moves has been the introduction of casino games to the PokerStars client, a decision that caused Victoria Coren to end her promotional relationship with the site.
Police Pay Amaya a Visit
In December, Amaya took its first major hit of the year, when provincial regulators and Canadian police paid their offices a visit. Initially described as a “raid” by some media outlets, it is unclear just how aggressive the action against the company (as well as two financial services firms) really was.
Speculation mounted that the investigation was looking into irregularities in the trade of Amaya stock before the Rational Group purchase.
The news had an immediate impact on Amaya’s current stock price, which dropped about 20 percent after news of the investigation broke.