For well over a year the poker world has waited with bated breath to see which company would be the first to offer online poker in a regulated market in the United States. At 9 a.m. PST on Tuesday, April 30, 2013, Nevada-based Ultimate Poker will become the first to do just that by launching real-money online poker at UltimatePoker.com.
“We are proud to be the first company to deliver legal and secure real-money online gaming to poker players,” said Ultimate Poker Chairman Tom Breitling. “We have worked closely with state gaming regulators to demonstrate our unique and compelling poker platform that, above all, players know they can trust. Ultimate Poker is dedicated to being the players’ choice for online poker.”
Ultimate Poker, a majority-owned subsidiary of Station Casinos LLC, is the exclusive online gaming partner of the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) and recently made headlines by signing poker’s all-time leader in tournament earnings, Antonio Esfandiari.
“This day has been a long time coming. Online poker in the United States is finally here and totally legit,” Esfandiari sad. “I signed on to be the ambassador for Ultimate Poker because I knew the people behind this company would do it right. I signed on because UltimatePoker.com is where I would come to play. Now we all can."
Indeed, Ultimate Poker is open to anyone age 21 and over located in the state of Nevada. Whether you’re a resident or just visiting the Silver State, you can create an account and deposit online. You can also make a deposit and cash out at any of Station Casinos’ 16 locations across the Las Vegas valley. What’s more, any player in the world can sign up and deposit at UltimatePoker.com in advance of visiting Nevada — a great option for those planning to attend the World Series or Poker over the summer.
Headquartered in Las Vegas, Ultimate Gaming was founded by four prominent gaming and technology entrepreneurs, and in 2011, they acquired CyberArts in order to create and maintain its own proprietary casino software that offers a safe and trusted environment.
“We feel our technology is a major advantage. Ultimate Poker’s proprietary software is completely owned and operated by parent company Ultimate Gaming, allowing for continuous investment and product development,” said Ultimate Poker Chief Executive Officer Tobin Prior. “The technology was acquired in 2011 and initially developed by a U.S.-based company with a completely clean regulatory profile.”
Here are some more details on Ultimate Poker Version 1.0:
Our friends over at PokerNews recently had the opportunity to sit down with Prior and Breitling, as well as Ultimate Poker’s Chief Marketing Officer Joe Versaci, to ask some pertinent in-depth questions.
PokerNews: First and foremost, how excited are you to be the first to deal legal and regulated online poker in the United States?
Breitling: For us, it’s exciting being the first properly licensed company to bring legal real-money online poker to the United States. It’s a big day for our company, Ultimate Gaming, obviously an important moment for the state of Nevada, and most importantly, for poker players in America. What’s happening, and the way we see it, it really comes down to the creation of a new industry, and it comes down to trust. We are going to rebuild trust between operators and players, and also between state governments, regulators and operators.
Players are going to come to UltimatePoker.com and not only get a great game, they’re going to know it’s legal, and they’re going to know that it’s being offered by a trusted company. As far as Nevada goes, the state has always been on the cutting edge of regulating gaming, and we believe the poker-only legislation is a responsible entry into the world of online gaming.
Can you talk a little bit about your partners in the Ultimate Poker endeavor and explain how this will prove beneficial?
Breitling: As it pertains to the two powerful forces behind Ultimate Gaming, we’ve got the trusted and leading Las Vegas gaming operator in Station Casinos and the world's fastest growing sport in the UFC as our partners. That uniquely positions us not only with their potentially millions of customers, but media and entertainment expertise, over 30 years of regulated land-based gaming expertise, as well as a database of loyal customers here in Nevada.
Just to touch base on our philosophy on growth, Station Casinos started with one property, the Palace Station, and grew from one property to 16 properties here in Nevada. The company is classified as a casino that locals love and trust. It’s an important partnership for us as we launch in Nevada.
With the UFC, we’re the exclusive online gaming partner. This is powerful for a couple of reasons. One, their core demographic is not only a loyal fan base, but it’s the perfect overlap with the online poker audience. The UFC has a really unique penetration when it comes to this core demographic. Dana White has three million Twitter followers, they’ve got 10 million people on Facebook that are following them, and they also grew from one state to 46 states in the U.S. over the past decade. They’re also in over 100 countries around the world. Both of these companies provide tremendous value, but it’s also in the DNA in both companies to always run to regulation. I think that’s an important distinguishing factor here. We run toward regulation, and this whole new era of trust is going to be about innovation and regulation. Companies must embrace both.
One of the things we’re most proud of is owning our own technology platform. It’s different than any of our competitors. That’s one of the most important decisions we made as a company.
Can you talk a little about the decision to develop you own technology platform?
Prior: We looked long and hard at various different platforms and eventually found Cyber Arts, which provide software solutions to gaming operators in licensed jurisdictions. We basically set about purposely to buy that platform with a really good core of engineers who reside in the U.S., in California, and we turned that business from a business-to-business to a business-to-customer business, so we put in place the full marketing expertise and operating expertise, and some of the best guys in the industry to help us lead in that regard.
We’ve basically spent the past year or so with our engineers making sure we fully complied with all the technical requirements of the new regulations here in Nevada. We spent a lot of time with our heads down not talking to the media, just really trying to figure out how to get this platform and all the regulations to be implemented. We got through testing, we were the first to be certified and now we’re the first to get permission from the Nevada Gaming Commission to go live.
Versaci: Just to plug that a little bit from a player’s perspective, I think what’s exciting and what we’re sort of starting to prove out here is that we’re the only company that took the position of acquiring its own software and building it from the ground up, and I think it’s going to allow us to move quickly and get the players what they want. From our product, we’re not going to worry about other licensees or how we manage to afford our operations, or if we need new features in other markets, say France or Italy, we basically control our own destiny. I think that’s how we got here and I think it’s going to be a force moving forward that we are able to integrate and improve the product quickly.
Do you feel being the first gives you an advantage in the market?
Prior: I think for us in Nevada, where we’re sort of franchised through Station Casinos, one of our main owners, it was really important to us, with our big database, that we offered something to our customers really early on. We’d like to leverage that capability here, and leverage our market position. So for us it was important to get to market early in Nevada.
Versaci: With the limited liquidity I think it was very important. I think it’s important to get people registered early and then take care of the customers and keep them a players on our site. It gives us the opportunity to make it our game to lose.
The WSOP is right around the corner, and that seems like a prime opportunity to take advantage of the hordes of players that’ll be in town. Are you prepared to make a push to get players to try Ultimate Poker this summer during the WSOP?
Versaci: Yes, definitely. There will be marketing campaigns and promotions. We’re excited for the summer. I think what’s most exciting and relevant to the players is that now, for the first time, they can actually come on, pool their resources, and get together to qualify for live events at an affordable price point, something that’s not necessarily available in a brick-and-mortar environment.
Will we be seeing any qualifiers from Ultimate Poker for the WSOP Main Event?
Versaci: I can’t speak to how directly we’ll be able to qualify for competing events, but we will definitely be putting up satellites for it and for live events. In terms of what actual integration we have, it kind of remains to be seen, but in our eyes whatever we can do is good for poker and we want to support players being able to come in a qualify affordably. I think that’s one of the major benefits of playing online.
On Tuesday you’ll have dealt the first online cash game hand and will also offer sit-n-gos. Do you have anything special planned for your first multi-table tournament?
Versaci: Of course. We’re launching with sit-n-gos and cash games, and we’re looking for our first Sunday $10,000 to be May 5. We invite everybody to come out and try to participate in the first [legal online] multi-table tournament in Nevada. We thought it was important to create some sort of keystone event that we can involve a lot of people in a very important first.
Any other promotions players can expect moving forward? A bad beat jackpot perhaps?
Versaci: I don’t know if we’ll do a bad beat jackpot, but you’re correct that some properties do a bad beat jackpot. Something that’s more interesting is they do a $300,000 guaranteed tournament for those who log 50 hours plus. We’ll integrate into those sort of things. We’ll also qualify online for live events that we’ll host at Station properties, so we’re essentially going to treat each poker room as an extension of our brand and try to tie the two together in as many ways as possible.
Is Ultimate Poker available on a Mac? If not, are there plans for it to be Mac accessible?
Prior: At the moment, we’re launching with PC, and then we’ll be introducing for the Mac as we go forward. You can actually play on a Mac by downloading Windows for Mac, but our dedicated Mac software will come out in due course.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Prior: I just think it’s a really exciting day for poker players in America.
Breitling: Nevada is a really important starting point, and we’re excited to be first to market. We’re also confident the market is going to expand well beyond Nevada. It’s a big win for poker players throughout America, and it’s a big win for the state of Nevada. The goal is to make poker fun again.
Versaci: I think for me it’s important to note what the players can expect, and what they can expect is a throwback to five, six, seven years ago when poker players ran poker sites and decisions were made in the best interest of the players. Every account was looked at, and every player was treated with the highest quality level of service. We brought in the guys that we think are the best in the industry to do that. It’s an exciting time.
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