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Jess Welman

Jessica Welman is a veteran of poker media, having worked as the managing editor of, a co-host of the Poker Road podcast, and a reporter for the World Poker Tour. She also works in the US online gaming industry as a producer and consultant. She contributes to numerous publications focused on New Jersey online gambling and NJ's legal online casino market.

NJ Online Gambling Resolution To Trump States Obvious, Opposes Federal Ban

June 13, 2017
NJ online gambling resolution

It is not like proponents of the industry need any more evidence the New Jersey online gambling system works. However, the state Assembly recently passed a resolution that is both a glowing review of New Jersey online casinos and a plea for President Donald Trump to avoid a federal online gaming ban.

The resolution, introduced by Assemblyman Vincent Mazzeo, passed by an overwhelming margin. Nonetheless, Trump and his administration continue to remain mum about any movement on the iGaming front.

New Jersey resolution touts online gambling’s big economic boost for the state

A resolution is not the same as a bill when it comes to legislation. Rather, resolutions serve more as a written recommendation, which can advocate for action, but does not legally put that action into effect.

So, what the New Jersey Assembly effectively did is loudly express its opinion that Trump should leave online gambling decisions up to the states. The resolution passed by a 75-0 margin. There were no nay votes. Only five Assembly members abstained.

In addition to advocating the president refrain from taking federal action on any anti-online gambling, the Assembly also heartily endorsed how much the industry benefits the state.

Here is an excerpt from the conclusion of the resolution:

“A federal prohibition against Internet gaming would directly and negatively impact New Jersey by dismantling the investments that the State and Atlantic City casinos have already made to implement and regulate Internet gaming, taking away the economic and employment opportunities already realized by the State and its residents, and foreclosing the future potential of Internet gaming to generate tens of millions of dollars in tax revenue, create high-tech software jobs, and foster valuable business ventures for Atlantic City casinos in this State.”

Trump’s online gambling stance remains murky

The resolution comes at an odd time. Currently Trump’s office is not taking any action on the online gambling front.

In fact, most of the gambling-related movement on the federal level is related to sports betting. The good news is New Jersey Rep. Frank Pallone is pushing to repeal the federal ban on sports betting. He recently introduced legislation called The Gaming Accountability and Modernization Enhancement Act, or GAME Act for short.

The bad news is the acting Solicitor General recommended that the Supreme Court of the United States pass on hearing New Jersey’s appeal of existing sports betting law. Now it is a matter of waiting to see if SCOTUS will take the SG’s advice or not.

Really though, the federal online gambling front is pretty quiet these days. Many were concerned after Trump’s election that billionaire casino mogul Sheldon Adelson would strongly push his anti-online gambling agenda. So far he is making little progress.

In the meantime, the states are all making big progress towards expanding online gambling. Pennsylvania, Illinois, and New York are all in the midst of legislative online gambling pushes. If anything, this resolution sends a message to those states that online gambling is a great revenue generator. Moreover, it can economically boost their respective casino industries.

Certainly it helps for Trump to be aware of this positive endorsement though. That way, should these states pass online gambling expansion, it will not be perceived as an epidemic, but rather as a trend best left up to the control of the states.

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Icahn Sells Trump Taj Mahal To Hard Rock International

March 2, 2017
Hard Rock AC

Carl Icahn’s troubled tenure as the owner of Atlantic City’s Trump Taj Mahal is drawing to a close. The billionaire announced he is selling the shuttered property to Hard Rock.

The sale comes 13 months after Icahn acquired the Taj Mahal after the resort declared bankruptcy. Icahn announced his intention to sell last month.

The property ceased operations in October 2016 following a lengthy battle with the local union. It has not reopened since, but the Hard Rock Cafe on property continues to operate on the site.

Property will be first Hard Rock casino in New Jersey

Last fall, Hard Rock was a key proponent of the voter referendum to allow casinos in northern New Jersey. The company wanted to open a casino adjacent to the Meadowlands Race Track.

The referendum was voted down by a wide margin. Hard Rock CEO Jeff Allen reaffirmed the company’s commitment to a casino next to the NFL stadium that hosts the New York Giants and New York Jets.

“We’re committed to the state of New Jersey for the long term,” Allen said.

The CEO worked in the Atlantic City gaming scene before moving to the global restaurant, hotel and casino company. It only makes sense then that the Hard Rock purchase a property in the only town in New Jersey where casinos are currently allowed.

Icahn wants to focus on Tropicana

Allen did not yet have a comment about the sale. Icahn explained his rationale behind giving up on the property. He says he wants to focus on the Tropicana:

“We at IEP are extremely happy with our ownership of the Tropicana Casino & Resort, and after considerable analysis and deliberation we determined that we only wanted to own one operating casino property in Atlantic City. A sale of the Taj Mahal therefore represents the optimal outcome for us. We wish Hard Rock and its partners the best of luck with the Taj Mahal.”

The troubles for Icahn and the Taj began almost immediately after acquiring the Taj Mahal. Icahn pledged to invest up to $100 million to save the struggling property. He went on to allegedly put $350 million in the property, but refused to use union laborers. The employees went on strike in July, no compromise could be reached, and the property shut its doors.

Even after the casino closed, Icahn’s troubles continued. New Jersey lawmakers passed a measure to revoke the gaming license of any casino that closed for a portion of 2016. Icahn and the Taj Mahal were the only parties affected by the measure.

Gov. Chris Christie vetoed the law, but Icahn rallied against Senate President Sean Sweeney, the bill’s sponsor, for his vindictive legislation and vowed to sell the property.

Icahn previously surrendered his gaming license and filed a deed restriction on the property requiring any buyers intending to operate it as a casino pay an extra fee. There is no word yet on whether or not the deed restriction was in place for the Hard Rock sale.

Brighter future on the horizon for the Taj Mahal

None other than Sweeney wished the new owners luck with the venture. He did so getting in some not-so-subtle digs at Icahn.

“This deal is welcome news, not just for the 2,000 union workers who can look forward to greater job security and a hopefully healthier working relationship with management, but also for the greater Atlantic City region as a whole,” Sweeney told the Press of Atlantic City.

The purchase is good news for the Hard Rock Cafe in AC, which continues to operate on the otherwise closed property. The restaurant was losing millions by remaining in operation.

The casino sale comes on the heels of news of a strong month for casino revenues in New Jersey, with record-breaking online gambling numbers. Hard Rock does not have any existing affiliation with an online gaming operator at present, but that could change.

Image credit: Capture Light /

Borgata Wants Ivey To Cough Up $10 Million Payment Before Appeal

February 3, 2017
10 million ivey borgata

Phil Ivey’s legal team recently requested that a federal court make a final judgment in his ongoing case with Borgata Hotel and Casino.

The Atlantic City resort has responded that it is fine with a final judgment. But now Borgata wants him to post bond on the $10.1 million a judge ruled he owed the casino after two extremely profitable sessions of baccarat using a technique called “edge-sorting“.

Why does Ivey want a final judgment?

In Ivey’s argument for a final stay, his lawyers proposed a stay on paying funds. Borgata has a pending case with Gemaco, the makers of the cards involved in Ivey’s game manipulation. Ivey and his companion, Cheng Yin Sun, used imperfections on the card backs in the deck to give themselves an edge.

Until courts rule on Gemaco’s culpability, Ivey wants to refrain from paying the sum ordered by the courts.

Why then does Ivey want to rush the court to a final judgment? So he can appeal the case to the Third Circuit.

Borgata agrees with the motion to make a final judgment. They argue that if it is final though, then it is time for Ivey to pay up.

The US District Court in New Jersey came to a sum of $10.1 million, which comprises $9.5 million in baccarat winnings and another $500,000 Ivey won at the craps tables using profits from his baccarat session. Borgata’s legal team attempted to get more money in the form of compensation for comps, but the court denied them.

Borgata agrees to judgment, but wants Ivey to pay up

In a recent court filing Borgata suggests the Gemaco case is completely extricable from the Ivey case. With that in mind, there is no reason in Borgata’s mind why the final judgment and posting of bond for the sum of the judgment needs to wait.

Borgata’s lawyers also contend the payment does not meet the considerations of causing irreparable harm to Ivey. Given his wealth and career, the casino believes he can easily continue his career as a professional poker player and gambler with $10 million less in his bank account.

Part of Borgata’s argument cites the internet lore surrounding Ivey and his speculated net worth. It also references Ivey’s personal web site, which suggests he should just assume he is going to win the World Series of Poker Main Event in the future:

“First, a number of internet sources estimate Ivey’s net worth at $100 million… the entrance fee for the world’s richest poker tournament, the World Series of Poker Main Event, is only $10,000. Ivey’s own website captions him as “one of the greatest [poker] players alive and states ‘many feel that it is just a matter of time before [Ivey] takes down poker’s grandest prize.’ ”

What comes next for Ivey?

Technically Borgata is asking the court to rule against Ivey’s request for a stay on payment without bond. In other words, the money would not go to Borgata just yet. It would be held in trust by the court and an appeal would only be granted after the bond is posted.

Borgata’s argument pretty effectively picks apart the reasons a stay of bond are typically granted. If the casino’s request is granted, it is up to Ivey to front the money or give up appealing the ongoing case.

Likely Attorney General Jeff Sessions May Be New Opponent To NJ Online Gambling

January 13, 2017
Jeff Sessions gambling

Prior to Tuesday’s confirmation hearing, it was clear US Attorney General nominee Jeff Sessions had strong opinions about several hot-button topics. What was not necessarily clear was his stance on online poker.

After a morning of questions from the Senate Judiciary Committee, specifically the online gambling opponent Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Sessions made his stance on the subject much clearer: He is “shocked” by the 2011 Department of Justice opinion stating the Federal Wire Act.

That opinion could lead to trouble for NJ gambling websites down the road.

Sessions wants a closer look at online gaming

The 2011 opinion from the DOJ’s Office of Legal Counsel did not change any laws. It did narrow the scope of 1961’s Federal Wire Act to only cover sports betting and not other forms of online gaming.

Jeff Sessions gambling

In the wake of the opinion, three states passed in-state online poker and casino legislation. Now New Jersey, Nevada and Delaware all offer either online poker or online casinos. Many other states are looking into iGaming as well.

“I did oppose [the 2011 DOJ opinion] when it happened, and it seemed to me to be unusual. I would revisit it or make a decision about it based on careful study. I haven’t gone that far to give you an opinion today,” Sessions told the committee.

Graham will likely be quick to supply problematic studies he frequently cites regarding the number of minors playing online. Those studies erroneously represent legal intrastate gambling and illegal offshore gambling as equivalent.

More on Sessions

Sessions is a senator from Alabama who previously served as the attorney general of the state. In the mid-1980s, Sessions was nominated for a position as a federal judge by President Ronald Reagan. The Senate Judiciary Committee was split on the nomination based on Sessions’ history of racially charged remarks.

The committee deadlocked, sending the nomination to the Senate floor. Sessions could not gain a majority of votes and failed to earn the appointment.

As a Senator, Sessions has served on the Senate Judiciary Committee. He is noted for opposing all three of President Barack Obama’s appointments to the Supreme Court.

Sessions was on the rumored short list to be President-Elect Donald Trump’s vice president. He was one of the earliest establishment supporters of Trump during his campaign. Sessions is a strict conservative with a strong stances against the LGBT community, as well as immigration.

Is someone influencing Sessions’ gambling opinion?

Oftentimes gambling proponents are quick to suggest the opposition is being influenced by billionaire casino mogul Sheldon Adelson. In the case of Sessions, the answer is not so obvious.

In 2014, Sessions publicly disagreed with Adelson on immigration matters. Adelson sought to loosen immigration requirements. Sessions was adamant the requirements needed to remain stringent. He even went so far to openly call out Adelson on the Senate floor.

Sessions may have called out Adelson in the past, but it is no secret the Sands CEO donated substantially to Trump’s campaign, as well as the campaigns of several other high-ranking Republicans. It is also no secret Adelson has many items on his agenda, including a ban on all forms of online gambling.

Image credit: Photo by Gage Skidmore licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license.

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