When the US Department of Justice made it legal for states to regulate online poker and casino gaming in December 2011, online poker players across the nation rejoiced. Then in April of 2013, when Ultimate Gaming launched the very first US regulated online poker site, it marked the beginning of a new era in iGaming. But when Ultimate Gaming officials announced the closure of Ultimate Poker in Nevada on Friday, it sent a shockwave throughout the industry that is garnering negative reactions throughout the Silver State.
Ultimate Poker was forced to shut down operations in New Jersey two months ago due to over-saturation of the online poker market in the Garden State. That closure came as no surprise, but the statement issued on November 14 that the original Ultimate Poker was ceasing operations in Nevada was not so well received. The implications it foreshadows among other states—not just Delaware and New Jersey where online poker is already regulated, but states expected to pass legislation in the next year or so (particularly California)—are not good.
Many industry experts, including Kim Lund (Game Consultant and Concept Developer for Infinite Edge Gaming), David Schwartz (Director of the Center for Gaming Research, UNLV), Lace Bradley (VP and Editor in Chief for Bluff.com), Adam Small (Co-Founder of Pocketfives.com), and Michael “Gags30” Gagliano (professional online poker player), all criticized Station Casinos LLC for its choice to implement a proprietary software platform. Ultimate Poker was driven onto the market as quickly as possible, and a rushed product became the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back.
From the very start, online poker players complained of the software’s multitude of faults, from lackluster features to constant glitches. Schwartz called the shutdown of Ultimate Poker, “A reminder that innovation involves risk.”
Alex Dreyfus, founder of Zokay Sports, which owns the Global Poker Index (GPI) and HendonMob poker database, and co-founder of French online poker giant Winamax, put in his two cents worth, alluding to a more comical error in Station Casinos’ venture into online poker. “UltimateBet / UltimatePoker. Well. Don’t call your business Ultimate in gaming. Doesn’t end up well.”
The implications for New Jersey and Delaware aren’t positive ones. Ultimate Poker already closed its virtual doors in New Jersey in September, and only three current online poker operators are drawing respectable traffic in that state. Delaware’s online poker market hasn’t done much to generate revenue, but the online casino side has done reasonably well and they are clearly holding out for the results of eventual shared liquidity. Some have even implied that California may look differently at regulating online poker, as was expected in 2015, but realistically, with a population of over 39 million, there’s much less risk of over-saturation in the Golden State.
As for online poker player reactions in Nevada, it’s expected that WSOP.com will absorb most of Ultimate Poker’s player pool. However, it’s likely that the majority of UP’s members already have accounts with the Caesars-owned poker site, thus it won’t make a drastic difference. The state’s only other operator, Real Gaming, already has a throng of promotional activities in place to increase traffic, having just exited beta-testing mode last month. It’s almost certain that WSOP.com will follow suit with extended promotions to grab the attention as many Ultimate Poker account holders as possible.