A $4.9 billion deal for the largest online poker company could mean a return of the game to the U.S.
Isai and Mark Scheinberg, the father-son duo that helped pioneer online poker, have decided to fold.
In doing so, they may have helped pave the way for a return to the glory days of online poker in the U.S.
Oldford Group has agreed to sell popular U.S. online cardrooms PokerStars and Full Tilt Poker to Canada's Amaya Gaming Group for $4.9 billion in cash. The acquisition makes Amaya the world's largest online gambling company.
The deal is expected to pave the way for the two pokers brands to regain entry to the U.S. market that they had previously dominated.
"Amaya believes the Transaction will expedite the entry of PokerStars and Full Tilt Poker into regulated markets in which Amaya already holds a footprint, particularly the U.S.A.," according to a press release from the companies announcing the deal.
The popularity of online poker surged in the early 2000s after an amateur by the name of Chris Moneymaker won the World Series of Poker's main event, having won entry through an online-poker tournament.
Online poker operated in a murky legal picture until 2006, when former U.S. President George W. Bush signed the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act into law. In 2011, the FBI launch a major operation to shut down the biggest online-poker sites, and freeze their assets, an action know in the poker world as "Black Friday."
The U.S. online-poker market has never recovered, but there is some reason for optimism. Nevada, Delaware and New Jersey have all legalized online gambling, and more judges are ruling that poker is a game of skill.
The global online-poker market was worth $4.1 billion in 2013, according to consulting firm H2 Gambling Capital. That number is projected to grow to $6.8 billion, with the majority of that growth coming from the U.S.
"PokerStars is the global leader. They've dominated the world in online poker and the U.S. is the next big growth opportunity," said Joel Keeble, director of mobile and poker for H2 Gambling Capital.
A return to the U.S. is not guaranteed, Keeble said, but is much more likely now that Isai Scheinberg — who is currently under federal indictment — is not a part of the company.
A judge in New Jersey, one of the states that has legalized online poker, said PokerStars would not be welcome while Scheinberg is still involved with the company.
"[A return to the U.S.] is uncertain, but it's unarguably much more likely under Amaya," Keeble said.
News of the deal sent shares in Amaya higher by more than 40%.