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The battle over legalized online gambling in the United States went mainstream on Thursday when Business Insider published an in-depth column detailing the relationship between New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and billionaire casino mogul Sheldon Adelson, and how that relationship may be keeping PokerStars‘ online gaming license application on ice in the Garden State.

Christie’s office laughed off the allegations in their response to Business Insider, calling them “nonsensical” considering Christie signed the 2013 online gambling into law. “The DGE licensing review is an independent, technical process, the length of which varies case by case,” Kevin Roberts, a spokesman for the governor said.

That being said, there certainly is a lot of smoke that signifies there might be some fire.

The Christie/Adelson connection

Whenever online gambling is being discussed it’s a pretty safe bet Sheldon Adelson’s name will come up. And sure enough, it’s front and center in the Business Insider article, which intimates that Chris Christie is purposefully holding up PokerStars license application at the behest of Sheldon Adelson in order to court favor with the anti-online gambling mega-donor.

This connection was made by several people in the BI article, including New Jersey State Senator Raymond Lesniak, who flat out said of PokerStars licensing delay, “Christie put a stop to it.” Lesniak went on to tell BI, “All I know is PokerStars was ready to go and then, all of a sudden, when Adelson started his campaign to ban online gaming nationally … they put it on the back burner.”

Lesniak has long held this opinion, often taking to social media as far back as October of 2014.

Lesniak went so far as to repost an article that mentioned his Twitter accusations on his official website in November.

Bob McDevitt, the president of Unite Here Local 54, the union that represents Atlantic City’s casino workers, told Business Insider he also believes the PokerStars license is being tied up by Christie.

“My impression was that PokerStars should have been already up and operating long before this point,” McDevitt said. “My understanding is that it was the attorney general’s office and the governor who are holding up the approvals.”

Why did Christie sign the 2013 online gambling bill?

Part of the story that has never made much sense to many people is why, if he is now holding back online gambling in New Jersey by stalling PokerStars entry to placate Sheldon Adelson, did Chris Christie sign the bill in the first place?

Christie certainly didn’t do himself any favors with the billionaire Republican donor – who has no problem spending nine-figures each election cycle – when he signed New Jersey’s online gaming bill into law in February of 2013, but did he have a choice?

“Christie had no choice but to sign that bill,” Lesniak told BI, indicating the political pressure would have been strong enough for the legislature to override a Christie veto.

“I would have absolutely brought members, not just to picket, but to testify in support of it,” McDevitt told BI. “I think that the veto would have been overridden if he did it and we would have been a part of it. We would have absolutely been active in that.”

Had Christie vetoed the bill and the legislature overridden his veto it would have passed as-is, so Christie’s conditional veto of the bill may have served two purposes:

1. Had the legislature not acquiesced to his demands (which included more money towards problem gambling initiatives and a higher tax rate) the bill would have died, which may have been the result he was hoping for.

2. Even if the legislature did make the recommended changes Christie could then argue he received concessions from a bill that was going to pass anyway, which appears to be the case he is now making.

Furthermore, New Jersey’s iGaming bill passed before Adelson launched his “spend whatever it takes” crusade to stop online gambling in November of 2013, and as Las Vegas Sands Vice President of Government Relations Andy Abboud said in a hearing in front of the California Assembly last May, Adelson didn’t’ really fight against the Nevada and New Jersey bills.

Is Christie really holding up PokerStars’ license?

Why PokerStars hasn’t received the DGE’s approval is a mystery to many.

Despite Lesniak’s insistence that it was Christie holding up the process, the notion that the governor, already embroiled in BridgeGate, would interfere with a state agency, seemed far-fetched; the very definition of hubris.

But is this what is going on? The Business Insider article seems to indicate it very well may be.

PokerStars appeared to be on track to receive a license in New Jersey when the industry was prepping for launch in November of 2013, and it wasn’t until the last minute that the industry learned PokerStars’ license had not been approved by the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement.

Several weeks later the DGE officially suspended PokerStars’ license application.

Following the sale of PokerStars to Amaya Gaming the licensing process was supposedly back on track, and several people with intimate knowledge of the situation I spoke to clearly felt PokerStars would be licensed in New Jersey in October/November of 2014, and by the end of the year at the very latest.

Yet here we are, in mid-February of 2015, and still no PokerStars.

So what is the holdup?

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Steve Ruddock

Steve is veteran of the the poker industry, first as a player and now as a writer focusing mainly on the regulated U.S. markets and the politics of poker. Follow Steve on Twitter @SteveRuddock and at Google+.

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