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Amaya Gaming betting $4.9 billion on PokerStars owner

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Amaya Gaming Group is trying to bring the world’s largest online poker website back into the U.S.

Amaya, a Canadian manufacturer of betting equipment and software, said Friday it will pay $4.9 billion in cash to acquire Rational Group, which owns the online gambling brands PokerStars and Full Tilt Poker. The Isle of Man-based company employs roughly 1,700 people and, together, its two main gambling websites attract more than 85 million registered players around the world who place bets on their computers and mobile devices.

The acquisition would create the world’s largest publicly-held online gambling company and news of the deal sent Amaya’s stock prices soaring, as the Canadian company’s shares were up more than 40% Friday afternoon. “This is a transformative acquisition for Amaya, strengthening our core B2B operations with a consumer online powerhouse that creates a scalable global platform for growth,” said Amaya CEO David Baazov.

The deal also offers an avenue back into the U.S. market for Rational Group’s properties after they were blocked here by a 2011 U.S. Justice Department lawsuit that brought allegations of money laundering and forfeiture. The complaint was part of the Justice Department’s efforts to crack down on online gambling in the U.S., though the government later decided to allow states to decided whether or not they would legalize online betting.

In 2012, PokerStars agreed to pay $732 million in a settlement of the Justice Department’s civil lawsuit, an agreement that also included the purchase of Full Tilt Poker. PokerStars did not admit to any wrongdoing. Despite that settlement, though, Rational Group’s gambling sites have yet to be approved for operation in the three U.S. states to legalize online gambling: Delaware, New Jersey and Nevada.

Bloomberg reports that a New Jersey gaming enforcement official said the state will review Amaya’s acquisition of Rational Group in order to determine whether it complies with New Jersey regulations.

An announcement for the deal said it would result in a combined company with $1.3 billion in 2013 sales and $474.8 million in earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization. The companies expect the deal to be completed “on or about” September 30, 2014, pending regulatory approval.

Update: This article has been updated to show that PokerStars did not admit any wrongdoing as part of its 2012 settlement.