Rational Group CEO Rafi Ashkenazi

While many former PokerStars and Full Tilt employees are on their way out, Rafi Ashkenazi is on his way in as the new CEO of the Rational Group. (Image: pokerstrategy.com)

The Rational Group has named Rafi Ashkenazi its new chief executive officer to oversee the PokerStars and Full Tilt online poker brands as parent company Amaya guides the networks into its next chapter operating in the United States.

New Jersey’s Division of Gaming Enforcement (DGE) took many months to investigate whether Amaya’s licensing application came with the merit the state required for approval.

The DGE ultimately ratified the request but with a series of stipulations including first and foremost that Rational and PokerStars must sever ties and all employment with individuals identified by the DGE as having failed to establish “good character, honesty and integrity.”

Ashkenazi served as the COO of Playtech before joining Rational in 2013 and being promoted to senior vice president of strategy for Amaya in April of this year.

“I look forward to re-joining the excellent team at Rational Group,” Ashkenazi said in a press release. “We have great opportunities in the near future with our upcoming launch in New Jersey, the expansion of our casino and sports-betting businesses and our mission to grow the poker category.”

Climate Change

Although the Garden State’s DGE didn’t specifically name which former or current employees failed to meet their ethical minimums, it was largely suspected that it included Director of Operations Israel Rosenthal, General Manager Serge Bourenkov, Chief Technology Officer Charles Fabian, and Rational Group Interim CEO Michael Hazel.

Ashkenazi submitted to a sworn interview with DGE officials, and the agency found no wrongdoings or ethical discrepancies during his time working with Rational or Amaya.

Amaya CEO  praised his job performance, saying Rafi has been “working very closely this year with our executive management team” and is an “ideal leader for the Rational Group.”

Hazel’s exit seems to confirm the DGE told Amaya to dissolve their relationship with the executive, but Rational also confirmed that Rosenthal will stay on in his role and report to Ashkenazi.

Promoting Within

New Jersey’s thorough enquiry into PokerStars and Full Tilt’s corporate governance since being acquired for $4.9 billion by Amaya in June of 2014 predominantly came down to determining the moral standards of the group’s new leaders.

The poker networks were labeled “bad actors” by the federal government for continuing to operate in the United States following the passage of the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006.

After the seizing of their assets on April 15, 2011, it was largely assumed PokerStars’ days in America had been forever folded.

America loves a good comeback, and a second chance is precisely what New Jersey has afforded the world’s most robust online poker network.

Amaya’s purchasing of the two platforms for nearly $5 billion along with the corporation now publicly traded on Nasdaq, one might think Baazov would be smart to hire from outside simply to gain all the favor he can with state and federal regulators.

But the 2015 PokerStars is no longer the PokerStars that the Scheinbergs founded back in 2011.

It’s now under Baazov’s leadership, a 35-year-young CEO that apparently has nothing to hide.