Ultimate Poker, We Hardly Knew Ye
Today marks the end of a short era, as Ultimate Poker, the first legal, regulated online poker site in the United States has made the decision to close its doors. Ultimate Poker lasted just a year and a half, opening April 30th, 2013 in Nevada and later that year in New Jersey, once the online gambling market launched in that state.
Ultimate Poker, majority owned by Station Casinos, had a decent enough start as the only game in town for a few months. Poker players seemed excited about not just having an internet poker room on which they could play, but also one that wasn’t one of the usual, old online players (though people have been yearning for PokerStars to enter the market). Staffed by people who were in touch with the poker community, the company seemed to know what it was doing at the outset, but once Caesars Interactive Entertainment launched the mega-brand WSOP.com in September 2013, Ultimate Poker’s descent began.
WSOP.com had the marketing clout of Caesars behind it and it used the established software from 888 Holdings which, while not the greatest software in the world, quickly proved to be far superior to Ultimate Poker’s barebones product. It did not help, either, that Nevada is in the bottom 40 percent in the United States in terms of population, severely limiting the potential player base of any poker room in the state. There is simply not a lot of room for even two online poker rooms in Nevada, as long as their customer base is restricted to just people within state borders.
According to PokerScout.com, Ultimate Poker was averaging just 60 cash game players at the end of its run, barely putting it in the top fifty poker rooms or networks in the world. It was basically a non-factor. WSOP.com is not doing a ton better on an absolute scale with just 110 cash game players, but it will also be joining 888’s All American Poker Network (AAPN) whenever it decides to launch. In addition to WSOP.com, AAPN will include a Treasure Island Casino poker room and a new poker room from 888 in Nevada. The network will also join forces with the three Delaware poker rooms, all of which run the 888 software.
According to the Las Vegas Review-Journal, sources have said many American (and by extension, Nevada) players were still signing up at offshore sites instead of the regulated sites in the U.S. There are still sites outside of the U.S. that accept American customers and have traffic that dominates Ultimate Poker. Bodog, for example, ranks as one of the largest poker rooms in the world, with an average of 1,450 cash game players, according to PokerScout’s numbers. Game selection apparently trumps safety for many players.
Tom Breitling, Chairman of Ultimate Gaming, released a brief statement about the closing:
As has been the case in other jurisdictions, online poker revenues in Nevada have fallen far short of original projections. Moreover, the state-by-state approach to online gaming has created an extremely cost-prohibitive and challenging operating environment. These factors have combined to make the path to profitability very difficult and uncertain. Consequently, we have decided to cease operations.
We are grateful to the Nevada Gaming Commission and Gaming Control Board for allowing us to be the first company to operate online poker in Nevada and greatly appreciate their leadership and support as the first state to license and regulate online poker. We are working closely with the Gaming Control Board to ensure a smooth transition for our customers as we cease Nevada operations.
Ultimate Poker had already given up on the New Jersey market in September, not even making it a year in the Garden State. The poker room cited problems with the bankruptcy of the Taj Mahal as the main reason it had to jump ship, but it already been lagging way behind its competitors, attracting even fewer customers in a much larger state than it did in Nevada. Each online poker operator in New Jersey must be partnered with an Atlantic City casino; Ultimate Poker got saddled with the Taj.
In August, Ultimate Poker’s revenue was by far the smallest of the three online competitors in New Jersey. The Ultimate/Taj pairing had a total internet gaming win in Ultimate’s final full month in New Jersey of just $23,099, compared to over $1 million each for both WSOP.com and the Party Borgata Network.
While Nevada does not publish the figures for individual poker sites (let me know if I’m just totally missing it), for comparison’s sake, Ultimate Poker, WSOP.com and the inconsequential Real Gaming had combined revenues of only $693,000 in September. It does not take much imagination to think about how little money Ultimate Poker must have been making, though it was likely more than in New Jersey.