World Series of Poker to launch Nevada's second real-money gambling website

A long-anticipated pay-to-play poker website based on the World Series of Poker will launch Thursday morning for customers located in the Nevada.

Officials from Caesars Interactive Entertainment, a subsidiary of Caesars Entertainment Corp., said Monday they received final approval from Nevada gaming regulators to begin accepting wagers on WSOP.com. Gibraltar-based 888 Holdings is providing the technology platform for the website.

WSOP.com will join Ultimate Poker, which is majority-owned by Station Casinos, as the only two regulated, real money gaming websites currently operating in the U.S. Several other poker websites are also expected to launch in Nevada while New Jersey hopes to move forward with online gaming websites by the end of November. Ultimate Poker began operating at the end of April.

WSOP.com will launch at 9:19 a.m. and can only be used by gamblers playing a computer located within Nevada’s borders.

“We expect to be competitive because we know what players want,” Caesars Interactive CEO Mitch Garber said during a media conference call Monday. “We’ve been talking with players and we listened to what they said that they want to see in the online game.”

The WSOP website will offer real money wagering on several variations of poker, including Texas Hold’em, Omaha and stud. WSOP.com will also initiate various marketing programs and player incentives during the the first phases of operation, including buy-ins as low as 1-cent and 2-cents and tournaments that have a $1.10 entry fee.

During the first few months, WSOP.com will operate under a “field trial,” in which all facets of the operation are monitored by Caesars Interactive and Nevada gaming regulators. The website will be fully functional to the public during the field trial.

Garber said WSOP.com will offer customers its own players loyalty program in which points can be used for various incentives, such as rooms, shows and other entertainment offerings at the company’s 10 Strip resorts. Also, Caesars Entertainment’s Total Rewards customer loyalty program to promote WSOP.com to its 44 million members.

“We will bridge land-based and online gaming in ways that have never been seen before,” Garber said.

Customers on WSOP.com, however, will not be able use the cashier cages at any of the Caesars casinos to add money to their accounts or cash out winnings. Deposit methods will include e-checks and credit card deposits. Withdrawls will be handed through e-checks and paper checks.

Initially, WSOP.com will only be accessible on PC and Apple computers. A mobile gaming site is still being developed.

“Out goal is for this website to be the definitive gathering place for those who love the game,” World Series of Poker Executive Ty Stewart said.

The company had hoped to launch the website during the six-week World Series of Poker tournament at the Rio this summer. Instead, Caesars Interactive instituted a marketing program to sign up players for the website. Caesars officials said more than 12,000 players registered to play once the online poker room goes live. Not all the players, however, live in Nevada.

“(The licensing) took a little longer than we though it would, but the reality is that we will be here for decades,” Garber said. “In the long run, no one is going to remember we didn’t launch during tournament.”

The initial promotion of WSOP.com will coincide with the final table of this year’s World Series of Poker Main Event at the Rio. The website will host the WSOP.com Online Championships, a series of nine tournaments with $500,000 in added money. The nine different winners will participate in the “Online Nine,” that will take place at the same time the “November Nine” takes place Nov. 4-5 at the Rio to determine the winner of this year’s Main Event.

The Nevada site could be the first of several WSOP-branded online gaming sites in the U.S. Caesars Interactive and 888 Holdings. The companies plan to launch online casinos in New Jersey through Caesars’ four resorts in Atlantic City.

Garber said Caesars has “embraced” state-by-state initiatives currently taking place for online gaming, although the company would still prefer a federal bill that would legalize and regulate online poker.

“We fought hard for and still hope for federal framework,” Garber said. “But we believe this is the beginning of a large online gaming business in America.”

Contact reporter Howard Stutz at hstutz@reviewjournal.com or 702-477-3871. Follow @howardstutz on Twitter.