By Steve Beauregard
Ultimate Poker – The start of legal online poker in the United States
*****Update to this article: (On November 14, 2014, Ultimate Gaming (the parent company of Ultimate Poker), announced that due to the site’s lack of revenue, the site would be shut down effective Noon PST, November 17th, 2014. So in other words, ignore the cheer leading and poor predictions I made in the article below.)
April 15, 2011 was a soul-crushing day for online poker players in the United States, when President Barack Obama’s Department of Justice seized the domains of the big three internet poker sites, effectively shutting down online poker in the USA. But exactly two years and fifteen days later, on April 30, 2013, hope for millions was restored, as the very first legal online poker site in the United States, Ultimate Poker, dealt its first hand to players in America.
Some are calling it “Terrific Tuesday,” or “Sunny Tuesday,” either way, Tuesday April 30, 2013 will be remembered as the day things started turning back around from those dark days following “Black Friday.”
Granted, the legal online poker is only for residents of Nevada, (and that player base is not enormous) but this first, legitimate, government-sanctioned website has taken a historic first step in what is sure to eventually become a multi-billion dollar US based online poker business.
Ultimate Poker’s ownership structure seems sort of complicated to the layperson, but here are the basics: they have partnered with both the Ultimate Fighting Championship owners, Frank and Lorenzo Fertitta, (hence the “Ultimate” part of Ultimate Poker), and Tom Breitling, who used to own the Golden Nugget Hotel and Casino on Freemont Street in Las Vegas. Some of you may remember Breitling as one the two partners (the other named Tom also), in the reality show “Casino” in which Fox TV cameras followed these two young Toms around and watched how they managed the downtown Vegas iconic landmark. (The two Toms would go on to sell the Golden Nugget a year after they bought it for a roughly $100 million dollar profit.)
I bring this up, because the combination of the Ultimate Fighting Championship, the Fertitta brothers, and Tom Breitling has seemed to lend an air of legitimacy to the new venture. Granted, at one time, Howard Lederer and Chris Jesus Ferguson seemed to make Full Tilt legitimate, but in this case, actually businessmen are running the show. And successful businessmen at that.
On top of that, and unlike any other online poker site before it, (like Party Poker, Full Tilt and yes, even PokerStars), Ultimate Poker has an honest-to-goodness, Nevada gaming license.
What’s called an “interactive gaming license” was granted to Ultimate Poker’s parent company, and they received full approval of the license in late April. As with any other gaming license, the state of Nevada performs background checks and investigations into the players behind the company, as well as with the company’s finances. Contrast this to every other poker site I’ve played on – all of which were based offshore (or on Canadian Indian reservations), and thus were not forced to undergo the rigorous checks to receive a Nevada gaming license.
The legitimacy that a Nevada gaming license brings to the online table cannot be understated. I only hope that when interstate agreements are made to connect Nevada players with players in other states where intent poker is allowed, (New Jersey has approved it), all poker sites will be vetted through the Nevada Gaming Commission.
In addition the legitimacy of the site, one of the best features of Ultimate Poker is that you can cash out. And I don’t mean cash out in the traditional sense of online poker, in which you hit a “Withdrawal” button and then hope and pray that (A) the site is legitimate and that they have the actual funds to send to you and (B) the government won’t shut down the site and seize the funds before you can get your money.
No, with Ultimate Poker, you can actually get cash, cash with your cash out. You can do this by going right up to the cage at one of the 17 Station Casinos located in the Las Vegas area. These include the Texas Station, Fiesta Henderson, Santa Fe Station, Red Rock Resort and Casino, Boulder Station, and Green Valley Ranch among others. For online players like me who have sweated the cash out process, and breathed a sigh of relief when an actual check would be delivered, this live, in-person withdrawal option is nothing short of a miracle.
In addition to cash, players also have the option of receiving a check mailed to them, and unlike in years past, you’ll have no fear that some nitpicky government agency will take it from you and prosecute you.
Yet it’s this cash withdrawal option that has amazed me. To think that you could take down a large Sunday MTT (multi-table tournament), and drive a few miles and actually pick up the $136,000 (or whatever it happens to be), in cold hard cash is a welcome change to anyone who’s ever played poker on the internet.
So how was the action the first day? So far so good say representatives from Ultimate Poker, who were gracious enough to answer a boatload of questions on the popular online poker forum, 2+2.
Issues arose with players being able to be identified as being in Nevada. The site verifies that a player is actually in Nevada by triangulating the player’s cell phone signal, while verifying the IP address of the computer used to play. However some players stated they couldn’t get registered, despite living in Nevada. The consensus also seemed to be that having Verizon service prevented registration.
As for the games themselves, the action was mostly on the smaller end with the site’s temporary (we think) 50 bb no-limit cash games. At one point, they had 14 tables running on that first day, with several sit-n-gos and action up to $3/$6 No-limit Texas hold’em. One poster replied that he was happy to see cash games running, even at 6 a.m. Nevada time. This is a good development, as many people were worried this first site may be a ghost town for awhile before becoming more established.
The only downside I see thus far, (other than the technical and registration glitches that one could expect from the first day of a brand new technologically-advanced venture), is the name. I’m aware that the Ultimate part of Ultimate Poker is designed to correspond and brand with the Ultimate Fighting Championship, however the word “Ultimate” still brings up fresh and bad memories of the cheating scandal that occurred on what used to be one of the top three poker sites in the world, Ultimate Bet.
My guess, is however, is that in a few years, when poker players hear the word, “ultimate,” they’ll associate it with Ultimate Poker, rather than with the scumbags at Ultimate Bet.
So here’s to Ultimate Poker, for turning Black Friday into Sunny Tuesday.