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Resorts Casino Hotel

Online global gambling giant PokerStars plans to make a big splash in the Atlantic City market by building a $10 million poker room as part of its Internet partnership with Resorts Casino Hotel. Company spokesman William J. Pascrell III said construction would start on the poker room immediately after PokerStars is awarded a New Jersey license for Internet gambling.

“As soon as the license is in hand, they’re ready to start building,” Pascrell said. “It will be the PokerStars poker room at Resorts.”

PokerStars and Resorts are looking to create synergy between their online betting enterprise and bricks-and-mortar operations. The new poker room is seen as a way of drawing online gamblers to Resorts to play in live poker tournaments. Resorts hasn’t had live poker since early 2010.

“PokerStars is committed to investing significant resources to put in a brand new poker room at Resorts Casino Hotel. In addition to the poker room, they are committed to driving traffic to Atlantic City through their marketing,” Pascrell said.

Meanwhile, PokerStars is planning to create hundreds of new jobs as part of its New Jersey buildup. But Pascrell stressed that the hiring plan is contingent on PokerStars getting licensed. After licensing, about 50 people would be hired immediately to install the systems needed to launch Internet gambling in Atlantic City.

PokerStars also plans to establish its North American headquarters for Internet gambling in New Jersey, a move that would create an additional 150 jobs by the end of the second quarter of 2014, Pascrell said. Then, an additional 200 New Jersey jobs could be created by PokerStars next year, depending on the success of Internet gambling and whether multistate compacts are formed to turn online wagering into a nationwide system, Pascrell said.

New Jersey is scheduled to begin Internet gambling on Nov. 26, although that date could be pushed back if the state Division of Gaming Enforcement believes more time is needed. New Jersey has joined Nevada and Delaware as the only states so far to legalize Internet gambling.

PokerStars, which operates the world’s largest poker website, is among dozens of online gambling companies looking to capitalize on New Jersey’s Internet business. The Web companies must obtain an Internet license from New Jersey regulators to form partnerships with the Atlantic City casinos, a process that will involve extensive background checks.

Speculation has been building that PokerStars may have a difficult time winning a New Jersey license based on its legal problems in the past. The company agreed to pay $731 million last year to settle a U.S. Department of Justice lawsuit that alleged the company engaged in money laundering, bank fraud and illegal gambling stemming from its online operations.

The company admitted no guilt or wrongdoing in the settlement, which opened the door for PokerStars to seek a license in U.S. markets where Internet gambling is legal.

Mark Giannantonio, president and chief executive officer of Resorts, declined to comment on PokerStars’ plans while the company is still immersed in the New Jersey licensing process.

The PokerStars.com and PokerStars.eu websites are operated overseas under licenses from the Isle of Man and Malta governments, respectively. PokerStars also holds separate government licenses in Belgium, Denmark, Estonia, France, Italy, Spain and Germany, the company said.

PokerStars aligned itself with Resorts in July after its attempts to buy the Atlantic Club Casino Hotel collapsed in a legal dispute. PokerStars has since given up on its efforts to buy the Atlantic Club, but continues a court fight to recover the $11 million it paid toward the proposed $15 million purchase price. Atlantic Club maintains it was allowed to back out of the sale and keep the money after PokerStars failed to win regulatory approval in time to close the deal.

Despite the ill-fated Atlantic Club deal, Pascrell said PokerStars remains interested in buying an Atlantic City casino. At this point, it is not in serious negotiations to buy a casino and has not set its sights on any particular property, he added.

“They’re willing to talk to all of the various casinos that are for sale,” Pascrell said.

Meanwhile, Resorts’ alliance with PokerStars has added a second big-name brand to Atlantic City’s oldest casino. Over the Memorial Day weekend, Resorts opened a $35 million Margaritaville-themed restaurant, bar and casino expansion in partnership with singer-songwriter Jimmy Buffett.

Resorts and Margaritaville said the partnership has proved hugely successful for both sides. Margaritaville’s oceanfront complex has become Resorts’ dominant theme. And the Atlantic City location proved to be Margaritaville’s most successful launch ever, the company said.

Results inside the Resorts casino also were positive during the summer. Resorts saw its gambling revenue increase nearly 12 percent in August and 6 percent in July compared to the same period in 2012. Overall, the number of customer visits to Resorts rose 25 percent May through August. Patronage at the Resorts restaurants jumped 38 percent over the summer, the company said.

“The gains at Resorts casino are significant for Atlantic City as a whole,” Resorts’ owner Morris Bailey said in a statement. “We’re bringing the fun back to Atlantic City and focusing on the natural amenities that historically have given us a unique identity — the beautiful beach itself and the legendary Boardwalk here at Resorts casino.”

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