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PokerStars Arrives in US … on Nasdaq

Nasdaq Amaya (AYA)U.S. online poker players who have been waiting and hoping for PokerStars to be allowed into their country got their wish – sort of.

Amaya, the parent company of PokerStars and Full Tilt, began trading this morning on the Nasdaq Stock Market. U.S. players still cannot play poker at PokerStars without leaving the country, but can speculate and trade shares of Amaya.

The listing on the U.S.-based Nasdaq Global Select Market will see Amaya traded on Nasdaq under the “AYA” symbol. That’s the same symbol the Canadian-based company has been traded under on the Toronto Stock Exchange. It is now listed on both exchanges.

Applied for in March, the Nasdaq listing was approved despite an investigation by authorities in Canada over possible violations of insider trading. Those allegations arose when Amaya’s stock price increased considerably prior to the company’s purchase of PokerStars and Full Tilt for $4.9 billion from the Rational Group last summer.

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Amaya reps conducted their own investigation with regard to insider trading in tandem with authorities in Quebec. No wrongdoing was found. That decision was also apparently arrived at by Nasdaq watchdogs, who approved Amaya for the upper tier of its trading regime last month.

Amaya CEO David Baazov called the new listing on Nasdaq an important milestone that will likely help broaden the company’s appeal and shareholder base. That base is expected to grow substantially when PokerStars is allowed to operate online poker and gaming sites in the U.S., which Baazov previously stated would happen in New Jersey by the end of September this year.

Growth may come about in other ways as well, including new acquisitions. Amaya is believed to be in the running to acquire Bwin.Party Digital Entertainment, the London-based gaming company that operates Partypoker and other sites.

Ironically, Partypoker was the top dog in the worldwide online poker market prior to the enactment of the UIGEA in 2006. Partypoker left the U.S. and ceded its position as the industry leader, which PokerStars obtained by continuing to operate in the U.S.

PokerStars now rules the industry – by a wide margin – but continues to be dogged by the “bad actor” label it was tagged with for remaining stateside. The company’s attempts to re-enter the U.S. have been thwarted thus far and may continue to be for years to come in various states under the current state-by-state model of regulation.

However, the fact that the previous owners of PokerStars, Rational Group, no longer own the company, is much more favorable in terms of being allowed back into the U.S.. New Jersey is expected to be the first state of entry for PokerStars, assuming Baazov is correct with his recent statements.

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