PokerStars Withdraws Sponsorship of NAPT

PokerStarsPokerStars have announced they will no longer be sponsoring the North American Poker Tour (NAPT), pulling out from this weekend’s event.

A PokerStars representative posted on 2+2 forum today saying “The North American Poker Tour L.A. event scheduled for March 5th to 12th at the Bicycle Casino in Los Angeles, California will proceed as planned, but not as an NAPT event. The NAPT and the Bicycle Casino reached the voluntary decision to hold the event without branding after constructive discussions with California gaming regulators.”

Just a short distance from the Bicycle Casino in the Los Angeles area is the Commerce Casino, which hosts the WPT L.A. Poker Classic, taking place today on Day 5 of the event. The final 6 players will return to the Commerce Casino on Thursday to determine the eventual champion.

In a letter issued by Tom Malkasian and Haig Papaian, who are two Commerce Casino Board members, it was revealed that the Hawaiian Gardens, Hollywood Park, and The Bicycle Casino were united in their opposition against Barney Frank’s (D-MA) HR 2267. If the bill had passed, it would have provided licensing and regulation of online gambling operators, effectively legalizing online poker in the United States. What eventuated was the bill ended up being marked up in the House Financial Services Committee, but it was not acted upon in Congress.

The contents of the letter made it clear that internet gambling industry lobbying organizations were viewed as “special interest groups receiving funds from illegal offshore gaming operators,” likely referring to online poker sites such as PokerStars. In reply, the PPA created the site, allowing poker players to sign an online petition which received well over 10,000 signatures, in an attempt to persuade the Commerce Casino to change their stance on the matter.

A large part of the friction between the Bicycle Casino and PokerStars may be a result of last year’s hearing at the House Financial Services Committee. Malkasian was present at the House Financial Services Committee in July 2010, speaking on behalf of all Los Angeles poker rooms against Frank’s poker bill. According to his testimony, he asserted that the “HR 2267 allows illegal foreign sites to be licensed despite their past actions, when in fact they should be deemed ineligible to ever be licensed.”

The tournament which will be replacing the NAPT is being dubbed the Big Event, where there will be a $5,000 buy-in for the Main Event. According to the same post on the 2+2 forum, The Bicycle Casino will also be losing some exposure for the event, since the Main Event will no longer be televised on ESPN.