Ongame Network to Shut Down in October

One of the old guard of online poker has finally bitten the dust. The Ongame Network, once one of the leading networks in the online poker world, will close in October, this according to reports from Russian poker site Pokeroff, Poker Industry PRO, and OnlinePokerReport. It appears that October 15th has been marked as the network’s final day.

The Ongame Network dates back to 1999, well before most of us had ever heard of online poker. It was not actually the Ongame Network at the time, but rather a single online poker room with a wonderful domain name: PokerRoom was originally just a play-money site, not launching real-money games until 2001.

Ongame NetworkI, personally, began playing online poker in 2004 and PokerRoom quickly became one of my favorite sites. The software was solid and the green-and-black schemed tables immediately caught one’s eye because of the “realistic” looking characters that populated the games. Rather than allowing players to choose their own avatars, PokerRoom filled each position at the table with a different image of a player. Which player figure was used was entirely dependent – if I recall correctly – on where one sat at the table. My favorite was the heavy-set, older man dressed in a flowery Hawaiian shirt; I believe he was positioned in the bottom left, which would have been seat seven or eight. There were the usual poker sterotypes: the classy, attractive woman in an evening gown, handsome guy in a suit, old lady, tough guy, etc.

PokerRoom also had a fantastic game team poker innovation, something that has rarely, if ever, been seen in online poker since. Back then, I worked for a major online poker affiliate which had an active poker forum. A bunch of us in that tightly-knit community formed a team (maybe ten of us or so) and about once a week would compete in league matches, not entirely unlike the Global Poker League. Again, with the qualifier of “if I recall correctly,” six Sit-and-Go’s would run simultaneously, with one player per team at each table. Not everyone from the team would play each week, but we rotated to make sure it was fair. Teams received points based on how each player finished and each week, the top performing teams won money. At the end of the “season,” the best overall teams would win extra coin. Each of us on the team ponied up maybe $20 to play the season; I believe funds were distributed (automatically, that is) based on who played and when. It was great fun having six tables open, watching my teammates play, and cheering each other on via online chat.

But that’s all ancient history in the online poker timeline.

The Ongame Network was formed in 2004 with as its flagship site. Sources I’m finding say that it had an estimated 3.5 million registered players at the time, making it the largest online poker network in the world. Obviously, most of those would be play money players and many would be inactive, but I do remember that Ongame was a major player in internet poker back then.

Unfortunately, as was the case with many rooms and networks, the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006 (UIGEA) was passed and Ongame withdrew from the United States market. It was shortly bought by Betandwin (later the more familiar bwin) for $570 million, the first blockbuster deal in the online poker industry.

Despite losing U.S. customers, Ongame kept doing well, achieving a high of 4,800 cash game players in April 2008 (seven-day moving average), according to Poker Industry PRO and PokerScout.

The beginning of the end for Ongame, arguably, was bwin’s merger with PartyGaming in March 2011. It was then that bwin moved its own players to partypoker, thus taking them away from Ongame. Ongame’s player traffic has continue to drop since.

A withered Ongame was sold once again in October 2012, this time to Amaya (which would buy PokerStars and Full Tilt less than two years later) for only €15 million, a tiny fraction of what bwin paid for it.

Just a few months after buying PokerStars and Full Tilt, Amaya offloaded Ongame, a “surplus asset,” to the NYX Gaming Group. In April of this year, NYX sold Ongame, a giant money loser for the company, to an unnamed “partner with proven experience in the industry.” NYX retained the rights to the Ongame brand in North America.

While the details of who actually owns Ongame right now are cloudy, OnlinePokerReport did say it has confirmed with the network that Ongame will be shutting down in October.

After reaching that peak of 4,800 simultaneous cash game players in 2008, the Ongame Network is now down to 140 players, according to PokerScout. That puts it behind serving the low-population states of Nevada and Delaware and barely ahead of WSOP/888 in New Jersey, if you would like a sad reference point.

So pour one out for the Ongame Network, one of online poker’s originals. It will be missed.


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