UltimatePoker.com to host games among players in Nevada

The first-ever legal pay-to-play online poker website in the United States is expected to launch this morning when Station Casinos-owned Ultimate Poker flips the switch on a new era in Nevada gaming.

The site, UltimatePoker .com, can be accessed only on computers or mobile devices located in Nevada.

State gaming authorities signed off of the company’s technology last week and allowed Ultimate Poker to move forward in what is considered a test period.

Ultimate Poker was licensed for interactive gaming in October.

The site is expected to go live at 9 a.m. with limit and no-limit Texas hold ’em poker through single-table cash games, sit-and-go events, and multi-table tournaments.

The poker games will have buy-ins from a few cents to $100.

“This is an important day for the gaming industry,’’ Ultimate Poker Chairman Tom Breitling said Monday. “We’re the first, not only in Nevada but in America, to offer real money poker in a regulated environment.”

Breitling said Nevada’s regulatory structure should satisfy any concerns players would have about online gaming.

Station Casinos, controlled by brothers Frank Fertitta III and Lorenzo Fertitta, owns 57 percent of Ultimate Poker. Breitling, who owns 14 percent, has led the development of Ultimate Poker, which has branding and marketing ties to the Fertitta-owned Ultimate Fighting Championship.

Ultimate Poker players can create accounts online starting this morning and can deposit money and cash out winnings at any of Station Casinos’ 16 locations in Southern Nevada.

Any poker player in the world can sign up and deposit money into an account at www.UltimatePoker.com in advance of visiting Nevada.

Station Casinos plans to tie its players club rewards program into activity on Ultimate Poker, allowing customers to earn points for online wagering.

“The mechanics behind online poker is liquidity,” Station Casinos Chief Financial Officer Marc Falcone said. “You need to have a lot of players, and we’re going to provide the means to drive players into Ultimate Poker.”

Falcone said the company’s marketing push for Ultimate Poker “will be as significant as the ‘We Love Locals’ campaign.”

Gaming Control Board Chairman A.G. Burnett said the launch is considered a “beta test” by Nevada gaming authorities, although it is being handled unlike any other rollout of a gambling product.

Normally, a new slot machine or table game is tested for 30 to 60 days in one or two casinos. Information, such as wagering activity, customer comments and employee feedback, is collected. Ultimate Poker will launch statewide.

“This truly is new ground,” Burnett said. “Everyone who meets the age criteria is welcome to test and play. The technology was certified by the independent testing labs and our technology staff. We were satisfied this is a viable product.”

Any errors would be fixed immediately by Ultimate Poker, he said.

Burnett said a report on the first 30 days of activity by Ultimate Poker will be reviewed by the control board at a public hearing.

Nearly two dozen casino operators and technology providers have been licensed since the state’s online gaming regulations were adopted after the 2011 Legislative session.

Under Nevada law, online gambling must take place on a computer or mobile device within the state’s boundaries. Gambling is restricted to players age 21 and older, and gaming regulators required safeguards in the technology.

Ultimate Poker is the first to reach market, primarily because it owns and controls its own technology.

Fertitta Interactive, a division of Station Casinos, acquired California–based software developer CyberArts in October 2011.

During last month’s Nevada Gaming Commission meeting, Chairman Pete Bernhard sought assurances from company officials that Ultimate Gaming’s technology would prohibit under­age gambling and money laundering activities, and would prevent gamblers from logging onto the site from outside Nevada .

Ultimate Gaming CEO Tobin Prior said the system is in testing and the company would answer any questions from the Gaming Control Board’s technology experts.

“The technology was acquired and initially developed by a U.S.-based company with a completely clean regulatory profile,” Prior said. “Being the first to launch is an honor, but it also comes with a big responsibility. Everyone will be watching us.”

Several states, including Delaware and New Jersey, are creating regulations for online gaming or exploring legalization possibilities.

Last year, Congress frustrated poker players when several federal legalization proposals died.

In April 2011, federal prosecutors cracked down on illegal Internet poker, cutting off access by Americans to some the world’s largest online gaming websites and indicting almost a dozen individuals.

“Poker players have been waiting for this day,” Breitling said of today’s launch.

Earlier this month, Ultimate Poker hired professional poker champion Antonio Esfandiari to promote the website. Esfandiari won a record poker jackpot of $18.3 million last summer in capturing the World Series of Poker’s $1 million buy-in “Big One for One Drop” at the Rio.

“This day has been a long time coming,” Esfandiari said. “Online poker in the United States is finally here and totally legit.”

The launch of Ultimate Poker satisfies a goal of Gov. Brian Sandoval, who wanted Nevada to lead the charge into legal Internet gaming activities.

In February, Nevada lawmakers, at Sandoval’s request, amended the state’s online gaming regulations, allowing the governor to enter into compacts with other states to increase the online poker player pool.

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

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