Pala Interactive, which became New Jersey’s first tribal operator when it partnered with the Borgata to unveil an online casino platform last November, has said it will not launch online poker in the state, as planned.
While Pala CEO Jim Ryan said that the platform was “by and large ready to go,” he revealed in an interview with CalvinAyre.com’s Becky Liggero this week that the company was disinclined to offer poker because it believed PokerStars would soon launch in New Jersey.
“Our plan was to launch with poker in Q1 of this year,” said Ryan. “We’ve put that on hold because we do expect PokerStars to enter the market.Â Not that we would have grabbed a significant share of the market one way or the other, because there are two very credible poker networks operating in the state of the New Jersey at this point in time. Liquidity is obviously a challenge.Â We’ve already seen one poker network exit the marketplace, so our objectives towards online poker product are different than our casino product.”
The company was founded by the Pala Band of Mission Indians of San Diego County, California, and its software platform has been in development for over two years. Pala’s plan, it seems, had never been to sit around waiting for California to regulate online gaming (and online casino has never really been part of California’s plans, anyway). Pala’s eagerness to enter the New Jersey market surprised many, and Ryan explains the thinking behind it.
“New Jersey was well-placed for us was that we had built a brand-new technology platform, probably the only platform out there that was built specifically to operate in a US regulated market. In fact, we built much of the platform with the New Jersey regulations in mind. But it’s one thing to run that platform in a lab, it’s another thing to expose to the marketplace.
“Being a new enterprise, we wanted to expose ourselves to a regulatory process,” he added. “So having the company, its management team and its product go through that process, being vetted, positioning us not just for New Jersey but for other regulated markets as they open up, fits perfectly with our strategy, which, by the way, is to operate in US regulated real-money gaming environments.”
Should California choose to legalize online poker this year, the situation would be very different, says Ryan. Unlike in New Jersey Pala has a recognized brand there, and a database of players, and could be a “meaningful participant,” he believes.
But he may not want to hold his breath. When State Assemblyman Mike Gatto introduced his online poker bill at the beginning of the year, he said he thought the odds of California legalizing and regulating online poker in 2015 were about 50/50.
Speaking at the recent iGaming Legislative Symposium, however, he said he now believes the chances are about 35 percent. It seems his optimism has been dented by the continuing inability of the various stakeholders to reach compromise on the language of the bill.