Table Talk: Baby Steps for US Online Poker

Baby Steps

I’m not even going to pretend I’m in Monte Carlo for drinks this week. Even that fake trip is probably more than I can afford! Besides, Las Vegas weather is still pretty nice, and I’m enjoying it while I can. Join me on my patio for an apple martini, won’t you?

There’s been some big gaming news in Nevada recently. On April 30, Ultimate Poker became the first online poker site to legally offer real-money games in the United States, though only to those within the boundaries of the state of Nevada. It’s been a long time coming, and many sites have licenses to do the same, but Ultimate Poker was the first to actually launch.

Yes, I know. Many other countries in the world are saying, “Wow. Welcome to 2001!” No one in US politics would claim that we move quickly on anything. We live with it.

Regardless, the Ultimate Poker launch was the first of many, as we expect to see the WSOP-branded site come from Caesars before the start of the World Series of Poker and others to follow. And by the end of 2013, there could also be online gaming running in Delaware and New Jersey as well.

Being the first came with its own unique problems for Ultimate Poker. There were many player registration issues, as a geo-location tool is being used to verify that players are in the state of Nevada by the location of their cell phones. Most cell phone carriers are cooperating, but Verizon is not, so those users must (for now) obtain a throw-away cell phone through another carrier in order to play on Ultimate Poker. There were other issues as well, such as games shutting down, the first big tournament disappearing from the lobby for a while, and a limited selection of games on the site.

However, it has been well-publicized that the first 30 days of play for Ultimate Poker is technically a “field test.” The results and any problems or concerns must be discussed with the Nevada Gaming Control Board at the end of this trial period in order to obtain approval for continued improvements. The process of these approvals as online poker improves in Nevada is going to be a long and sometimes-tedious one, but with all eyes on Nevada, it needs to be done flawlessly. The eyes of other states that are considering online poker, as well as the US Congress, are watching.

Ultimate Poker is taking the jabs of all who expected the second coming of PokerStars. It’s certainly difficult for the casual poker fan to understand that online poker in the United States isn’t going to be like PokerStars for some time. US lawmakers are just now struggling to understand what’s involved in every detail of the industry, and they’re forcing a very slow rollout. It’s the way it has to be.

It is a bit ironic that PokerStars just announced its 100 billionth hand promotion this week. While the first online poker site in the United States takes its first baby steps, PokerStars offers a promotion worth $5 million to its players in areas of the world that still welcome the world’s largest poker site.

Players in Nevada want fast-fold poker, mixed game options, the Sunday Million, and everything else to which they became accustomed on PokerStars. Players in the rest of the US want to know why they can’t play on Ultimate Poker when they’re not in Nevada. Meanwhile, many of them are still waiting to hear when they can claim their Full Tilt money from the US government. Needless to say, it’s far from an ideal environment for online poker players here.

But to look on the bright side, this is a start. It’s the only way that the US is going to allow it to happen, and it’s all we have right now. We’re going to roll with it, take the jokes from the rest of the world in stride, and play our big $10K Sunday tournament like it’s the biggest thing ever.

Even I deposited money on Ultimate Poker, and I’m one of the worst poker players in America. I’m considering it a donation to the game. (If I win, I’ll be changing my story.)

For now, Nevada is the place to be in the United States as online poker begins its slow-but-steady comeback.

I’ll make another martini and drink to that!