Pala Interactive CEO Jim Ryan Raises Eyebrows and Questions in Borgata Team Up

November 7th, 2014 | by Brian Corlisse
Pala Interactive CEO Jim Ryan

Pala Interactive CEO Jim Ryan has some questionable online ties in his past, as the company teams up with Borgata in New Jersey for online offerings. (Image: egrmagazine.com)

Pala Interactive, in tandem with new partner Borgata, is set to become New Jersey’s first tribal gaming operator, and will offer online poker and gambling in the Garden State.

The company, which was founded by the Pala Band of Mission Indians of California’s San Diego County, has received a transactional waiver from the New Division of Gaming Enforcement approving the partnership, and is expected to launch its platform, palacasino.com, before the end of the month. A poker site is expected to follow early next year.

The platforms were developed in preparation for the legalization and regulation of online poker in California, but the legal process has stalled there, and it seems that Pala Interactive has been getting itchy feet. Eager to try out its software, developed by Realtime Edge Software, in a living, breathing market, New Jersey now appears to fit that bill.

The tribe may also see an opportunity to fill the tiny vacuum left by recent departee Ultimate Gaming. Having said that, considering that online casino gaming was never on the agenda in California at all, and that the company’s casino platform has been in development for over two years, maybe this was always part of the plan.

“Hopefully we’re going to surprise and delight and build some meaningful market share in New Jersey,” said CEO Jim Ryan.

Ryan’s Questionable Past

There are a few things that don’t quite add up about all this and they mostly relate to the fact that Jim Ryan is steering the ship.

Ryan was the CEO of UltimateBet during the super-user scandal, when millions of dollars were stolen by a group that included former WSOP Champion Russ Hamilton, who were using an account from within the company that enabled them to see their opponents’ hole cards.

While there’s no evidence whatsoever that Ryan was complicit in the scandal, his association with UltimateBet was enough for him to be jettisoned from his subsequent post, as the CEO of partypoker, when bwin.party applied for a Nevada license in late 2012.

In its online licensing legislation, on which the ink was still shiny, Nevada had a significant clause relating to “bad actors,” the term applied to those companies that continued to accept US bets after the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA) of 2006 had made it illegal to do so. And UltimateBet continued offering online poker to Americans right up to the moment the US Department of Justice shut the whole thing down on Black Friday in 2011.

While partypoker ultimately chose not to pursue a Nevada license, and now has the market share in New Jersey where it is also in partnership with the Borgata, Ryan still represents a bizarre choice for Pala Interactive, which is poised to enter the California market as and when lawmakers can get their heads around a bill they all agree on. Up until now, all proposed California bills have had contained uncompromising language relating to the exclusion of bad actors.

Bad Actor in Their Midst

More quizzical still is that Robert Smith, chairman of the Pala Band of Mission Indians and the California Tribal Business Alliance, has been steadfast in his opposition to the entrance of bad actors (read PokerStars) into a legalized California online poker market.

While praising the American Gaming Association’s filing of a brief to bar PokerStars from entering the New Jersey market in March 2013, Smith said that only “licensees who have played by the enacted laws and rules of the United States, and maintained their integrity in the face of growing competition, should have a seat at the table.”

Either Ryan has left an enormous hole in his CV, or Smith is a less-than-efficient employment background-checker, or both.

Pala Interactive has signed Phil Ivey as its brand ambassador. He is, after all, the biggest thing in poker. Except that new partner Borgata is currently suing him for fraud, claiming that he cheated them out of $9.6 million, and its lawyers are talking about a prison sentence. A tangled web, indeed.

On top of which, Ivey just reopened his judgment in his Crockfords defeat, asking for an appeal. So how much free time the superstar will have between jettisoning around the globe, defending his edge-sorting system, remains to be seen.

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