June 13, 2014 / 4:43 AM / 4 years ago

UPDATE 1-Canada's Amaya Gaming buys PokerStars owner for $4.9 bln

(Changes source, adds details)

June 12 (Reuters) - Canada’s Amaya Gaming Group Inc on Thursday said it will buy for $4.9 billion Rational Group, which owns and operates the world’s biggest online poker company PokerStars.

The transaction will be financed with a combination of cash on hand, new credit facilities and equity financing, the company said in a statement.

The deal is backed by Blackstone Group LP’s credit division, GSO Capital Partners, which will buy more than $600 million in convertible preferred shares and other securities. Deutsche Bank, Barclays and Macquarie Capital will provide $2.9 billion in credit facilities and other financing.

Rational Group, owned by Oldford Group, operates gaming and related businesses including PokerStars and Full Tilt Poker, which are collectively the world’s most popular and profitable online poker brands with more than 85 million registered players on desktop and mobile devices.

Amaya said it expects the transaction will “expedite the entry of PokerStars and Full Tilt Poker into regulated markets in which Amaya already holds a footprint, particularly the USA”.

Online gambling was effectively outlawed in the United States until December 2011, when the Justice Department backed a court decision that said a 1961 law banning interstate sports betting did not apply to other forms of gambling.

Nevada, New Jersey and Delaware now offer some form of internet gambling, and eight other states considered legislation last year.

In 2011, federal prosecutors in Manhattan launched a massive crackdown against online poker in the United States.

PokerStars paid $731 million in July 2012 to settle a money laundering lawsuit filed by the U.S. Department of Justice that contended the companies used fraudulent means to circumvent federal law and deceive banks into processing payments for them.

Amaya said the deal, expected to close by Sept. 30, will be immediately accretive to its earnings.

The company said it will retain Rational Group’s management team and PokerStars and Full Tilt Poker’s services will be unaffected by the deal.

However, Mark Scheinberg, founder and CEO of Oldford Group will resign from all positions with Oldford Group and its subsidiaries on completion of the deal. (Reporting By Tanvi Mehta, Narottam Medhora and Ankush Sharma in Bangalore; Editing by Savio D’Souza and Miral Fahmy)

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