Tuesday, Dec. 31, 2013 | 8:23 a.m.
ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. — PokerStars, the world's largest online poker website, says it is seeking to offer online gambling in other states even as it continues pursuing a license to do it in New Jersey.
In a year-end blog post expected to be published Tuesday that was obtained by The Associated Press, the site's parent company, the Rational Group, also blames the owners of The Atlantic Club for its impending shutdown. The Rational Group signed a deal to buy the casino for $15 million, but the casino owners canceled that in April when Rational didn't get state approval quickly enough.
The post is the company's first public comment on the shutdown of The Atlantic Club, which was sold in a bankruptcy auction last week to two competitors who will close it.
"It's always sad when hard-working people lose their jobs, especially during the holiday season," the company wrote. "This is particularly sad, though, because it simply didn't have to happen. At this time last year, PokerStars reached an agreement that would secure a new future for the casino, save the jobs of 1,800 employees and inject new blood, new technology and new finances into the Atlantic City casino economy."
Even though New Jersey had not yet approved Internet gambling, the Rational Group began advancing The Atlantic Club money to get it through the winter and the lean months after Superstorm Sandy; eventually it sent the casino $11 million of the $15 million purchase price.
"As spring approached, the economic prospects for the Atlantic Club appeared to brighten even more with the newly-enacted iGaming legislation and the promise of summer tourism business on the horizon," the company wrote. "That's when the casino's then-owners gambled with their employees' future. In hopes that the improved economic picture could lead to more rewards for them, they walked away from our contract rather than wait another few months for the regulatory approval process to be completed.
"Now, the Atlantic Club will be stripped for parts and its employees will be put out onto the Boardwalk in search of new jobs in 2014," the company wrote. "PokerStars does not share the vulture-like management practices that led to the coming job losses and disappointment of thousands of people in New Jersey with the closure of the Atlantic Club."
Michael Frawley, the chief operating officer of The Atlantic Club, declined to comment.
New Jersey regulators have suspended PokerStars' application for an Internet gambling license for two years, citing an unresolved indictment against the company's founder. Company spokesman Eric Hollreiser said Rational will continue to seek licensing in New Jersey while also exploring potential deals in other states.
Internet gambling is legal in Nevada and Delaware, and 10 other states have expressed varying degrees of interest in it. Hollreiser said, "We're active in many states that are considering online poker and/or online gaming regulations and are discussing opportunities as they arise and as legislation progresses."
He also said the company's partnership with Resorts Casino Hotel in Atlantic City remains intact as Rational continues to pursue a New Jersey Internet gambling license. Rational aligned itself with Resorts after The Atlantic Club purchase fell through. Hollreiser would not say whether the company is compensating Resorts for not being able to immediately offer Internet gambling.