The iGaming community is currently focused on California, where the State Assembly hosted an online poker hearing that featured several key individuals from the online poker industry in Nevada, including former NGCB Chairman Mark Lipparelli. But while California discusses the potential for online poker expansion Nevada continues to live it, dealing with all the ups and downs that go along with it. In this installment of the Nevada Online Poker Week in Review well look at the good and the bad going on in Nevada, and the contentious and the uncontroversial. Well kick things off with the ongoing mini-controversy regarding WSOP.coms customer service department (which is actually 888s customer service department) and why it speaks to a larger issue in the US iGaming industry, followed by Las Vegas Sands Andy Abbouds name surfacing as one of the people who spoke at Californias online poker hearing. So keep reading for the specifics on these stories and a whole lot more below. The WSOP.com customer service kerfuffle This weekend we brought you one of the most interesting stories weve seen in the one-year existence of Nevadas online poker industry, as the first forum-based controversy involving a licensed, regulated online poker room got a little bit of attention. There isnt much to the story itself (click the link above to see why), but it does demonstrate one of the issues the licensed online poker rooms still havent been able to solve, transparency. For whatever reason the licensed sites in the US have decided to continue the long tradition in the industry of being very opaque when it comes to their corporate structure and who and how things will be handled. In this example it was the customer support department, and because of a lack of transparency the entire community was under the assumption that WSOP.com was in charge of their own customer service, which isnt the case, 888 handles the customer service. These things arent a big deal in and of themselves, but they do make things unnecessarily harder for the sites when things do go wrong, and then when they do have to explain what is going on, they wind up with conspiracy theorists thinking they are then making excuses up out of whole cloth to cover their butts. Andy Abboud goes west Wednesdays California hearing on online poker wrapped up with Sheldon Adelsons henchman Andy Abboud. Check out the 24 Things I Learned at the California Online Poker Hearing here. Weekly Guaranteed Tournaments in Nevada WSOP.com Sunday $15K Guaranteed This weeks running of the $15k guaranteed at WSOP.com pulled in 86 players, down seven entries week-over-week but still more than enough to eclipse the guarantee, as the final prize-pool tally topped off at $17,200. Here is a look at the final table payouts:
aggie69 $464.40 WSOP Main Event Satellite Once again the WSOP Main Event qualifier featured a substantial overlay, as just 35 players registered for this weekends $215 ($200+$15) tournament, leaving WSOP.com on the hook for the remaining $3,000 of the $10,000 seat.
DiaperChanger Seat to the 2014 WSOP Main Event The $10K Guarantee tournament at Ultimate Poker Apparently the seven players missing from WSOP.coms $15k guaranteed went over to Ultimate Poker this weekend (with one of them bringing a friend) as UPs $10k guarantee saw attendance jump eight players. UPs weekly tournament features a $100 buy-in ($91+$9) so even with the increased number of entries UP still had to cough up over $1,000 in overlays. Here is a look at the final table payouts:
VegasPlayer $300 Traffic trends in Nevada It was bad week for Nevada online poker traffic as WSOP.com stayed below 100 average cash-game players and Ultimate Poker saw their average cash-gamed traffic dip to just 60 players according to www.pokerscout.coms data. Traffic was already trending down, (last weeks numbers were 95 for WSOP.com and 65 for Ultimate Poker) but previous downward trends had been followed by a solid spike in traffic, a spike that did not occur this week. The word on the street Antonio Esfandiari begging for money at airport What happens when you forget your wallet and are stuck in an airport with no money? You go hungry until you can crack open some pretzels on the plane. But if your name is Antonio Esfandiari you can beg and plead until someone hands you $30. William Hill makes the case for election betting William Hill is making their case that betting on elections isnt all that bad, and what better place to make that case than in Las Vegas! For those of you that dont know, sites like InTrade are illegal in the US, so this would be a pretty big deal.
The big news in Nevada online poker this week has sprouted from of all places a rumor, but its a big enough deal that it has commandeered a lot of the headlines, and it commandeered a few of the stories in this weeks Nevada Online Poker Review. So what is the rumor? Youll find out as your reading this weeks column of course! In addition to the rumors well also talk about an interesting column that appeared on the Center for Public Integrity website; the upcoming one year anniversary of online poker n Nevada; some more anti-online gambling rhetoric from a Las Vegas Sands executive; and the latest tournament and traffic trends in the state. Center for Public Integrity takes on iGaming The Center for Public Integrity unveiled an incredibly in-depth look at the current fight for online gambling, taking an unbiased look at both sides in the fight, including where their funding comes from and how they are spending their lobbying money. Anyone who follows iGaming should read this article and take careful note of its contents. Perhaps one of the more interesting slants of the story is the continued funding of the Poker Players Alliance (PPA) by the Rational Group, the parent company of PokerStars, as well as Rationals individual lobbying efforts at the state and federal level, something I was unaware of. Another piece of the puzzle that few people have a strong handle on is the role Joe Brennan Jrs iMEGA played in the legislation that was eventually passed in New Jersey. Anniversary of Nevada online poker approaching In just two weeks time the Nevada online poker industry will celebrate its one year anniversary. How has the first year gone for Nevada online poker rooms? The industry hasnt been what I would call a success, but its far from being a failure. So far online poker in Nevada has been the very definition of mediocre in my opinion. The market peaked relatively quickly, but has failed to continue to mature as most people had hoped; actually the current market, with three poker rooms, is smaller than when Ultimate Poker was the sole proprietor. The good news is, we have an impending interstate online poker agreement between Nevada and Delaware that is expected to launch this summer, and now rumors are swirling that New Jersey may be thinking about joining the Delaware/Nevada partnership. All things considered, Nevada has performed admirably considering they were hamstrung by being first state with legalized online poker (the guinea pig) and considering the sparse population they had to work with the expectations were never all that high to begin with. Sands COO says iGaming all about taxes for Feds Recently, Las Vegas Sands President and COO Michael Leven called the current efforts to legalize online gambling in the US a cash grab, saying the federal government was simply looking for something else to tax, and said of the entire conversation, Its all about finding more money, according to the Las Vegas Review-Journal. Leven made the remarks at the Nevada Republican Partys VIP Breakfast at South point which ironically is one of three online poker providers in Nevada, with their Real Gaming product. Weekly Guaranteed Tournaments in Nevada WSOP.com Sunday $15K Guaranteed This weeks running of the $15k guaranteed at WSOP.com attracted 93 players. With a buy-in of $215 ($200+$15) the prize-pool easily eclipsed the guarantee, topping out at $18,600. Here is a look at the final table payouts:
kingpin1 $502.20 WSOP Main Event Satellite Just a week after meeting its guarantee for the first time, the $215 buy-in WSOP Main Event qualifier handed out one of its biggest overlays. Only 34 players registered for the tournament, which meant an overlay of $3,200 for the registered players. The winner of the tournament was a player with a terrific screen-name, Don_Key who will now find him or herself in the World Series of Poker Main Event with a chance at the $10 million first-place prize.
Don_Key Seat to the 2014 WSOP Main Event The $10K Guarantee tournament at Ultimate Poker Ultimate Poker wasnt as fortunate as WSOP.com as they handed out an $1,810 overlay after just 90 players registered for their $10k Guarantee, featuring a buy-in of $100 ($91+$9). Here is a look at the final table payouts:
swordfish515 $300 Traffic trends in Nevada After some gains the Nevada online poker market has suffered a significant setback, as traffic numbers dipped roughly 13% this past week according to www.pokerscout.coms data. WSOP.com saw average traffic drop from an average of 110 cash-game players to just 95, while Ultimate Poker suffered a similar decline, dropping from an average of 75 cash-game players to just 65 this week. What about South Points Real Gaming online poker site? The site is still struggling to gain any type of foothold in the market, and its tables remain virtually empty most of the day. Of course, there is still hope that the World Series of Poker, which kicks-off next month, will see a surge in players, and that the upcoming pooling of players with Delaware will also help out on the traffic front with the above mentioned potential for a partnership with New Jersey that has been discussed being a Holy Grail of sorts. The word on the street New Jersey may finally be interested in joining forces Youve already seen several mentions of this in this column, but just to emphasize how big a deal this would actually be, if this comes about average cash-game traffic would suddenly start approaching four-figures from all of the licensed sites combined. Basically, the only unlicensed online poker site that could compete would be Bovada.
Historically, the advent of spring ushers in a marked decline in the amount of global online poker traffic. 2014 has proven no different. Nevadas newly-minted online poker industry, now approaching its one-year anniversary in the regulated iGaming space, failed to escape the seasonal downtrend, exhibiting nominal losses in both cash-game and tournament traffic. However, with the World Series of Poker and a shared liquidity agreement with Delaware on the horizon, Nevada appears well-positioned to reverse its woeful fortunes. But as we all know, appearances can be deceiving. We examine the latest traffic trends in the Silver States regulated gaming market, and offer our own insight into the future of the industry, in this, our first installment of Nevada Traffic Report. Cash-game volume dips across the board After recovering from a five month low point in late-March, WSOP.com recovered briefly, only to lose steam once again. Ultimate Poker suffered a similar fate. Cash-game 7-day averages for Nevadas three regulated poker sites, as of April 14th, listed below: · WSOP.com: 94 · Ultimate Poker: 65 · Real Gaming: 0 Compared to April 1st, traffic on WSOP,.com is down nearly 8 percent, but still slightly improved over its March 23rd low point of 89. Ultimate continues its seemingly endless downward spiral, dipping down to its lowest levels since first launching late last April. And according to PokerFuse Pro via PokerScout, Real Gaming has failed to record any traffic. This is largely due to the sites utter dearth of marketing, but can also be partially attributed to Nevadas small population, which is hardly large enough to sustain three online poker sites, let alone the upwards of six the Silver State may boast by years end. When compared to trends in the global iPoker marketplace, Nevadas performance ranks well below average. Globally, cash-game traffic held steady from the period of April 1st April 14th, whereas traffic in Nevada dipped 6.4 percent. Majors boast deflated numbers This weeks Majors also exhibited noticeable decreases across the board, with the weeks biggest Major, WSOPs $15k Guarantee only drawing 93 runners. While the $15k still crushed its guarantee by $3,600, week-over-week turnouts were down 15.5 percent. WSOP would also give away one seat to the Main Event last week, awarded to a player that goes by the moniker Don_Key. Only 34 players entered the $200 + $15 qualifier, amounting to a $3,200 overlay. Ultimate Pokers $10,000 Sunday drew approximately the same amount of runners (90) that it did last week. But that still wasnt enough for the site to turn a profit, as even including tournament fees the site was forced to pony up $1,000 out-of-pocket. The last time UPs major drew more than a 100 runners was on March 31st. Is help on the way? Due to a shared liquidity agreement with Delaware, cash-game volume on Nevada-housed sites should receive a modest boost come late-summer. I say modest because Delaware boasts a paltry population of less than one million, and thus far, traffic on its regulated poker sites has been close to non-existent. Then again, its very possible that more patrons from Delaware will take notice of online poker once a larger player pool is available. The upcoming WSOP should also help to bolster online poker traffic, as swarms of professional and recreational poker players will mob the Rio for a six week period beginning in late May. Still, with so much activity taking place at Las Vegas b&m casinos, its hard to fathom many players wanting to go to their rooms to play online, especially with so many juicy live cash games running. Arguably, Nevadas best shot to stay/become relevant would be to forge an interstate compact with New Jersey. Due to a variety of factors, not the least of which is falling traffic numbers, New Jersey suddenly appears willing and able to share liquidity the Silver State and Delaware by the end of 2014. Should this happen, more states might be compelled to join in the mix, thereby creating additional interstate liquidity sharing opportunities in Nevada. But make no mistake; Nevada faces a long uphill climb.
Nevada is fast approaching its one-year anniversary of legalized online poker, but that doesnt mean everything has fallen into place without issue, or that the industry is now on secure footing. Setting aside the operational and technical issues the online poker industry has faced, there is also the ever-present storm cloud of Sheldon Adelson hanging over the industry, although a number of chinks in the armor are starting to appear that are making Adelsons anti-online gambling crusade look more like the last stand of the 300 than Operation Overlord. In this weeks installment of the Nevada Online Poker Review well take a look at a bit of defiance from the Sands Board of Directors; see which six casinos were granted extensions by the NGCB; take a historical look at Nevada Gaming revenue; and a whole lot more, including the latest traffic trends and tournament results. Sands board member now iGaming shareholder Well isnt this an interesting wrinkle! Apparently one of the members of the Las Vegas Sands Corp. Board of Directors, Jason Ader, has recently become the second largest shareholder of bwin.party, one of the giants of the online gambling industry, and a company that is licensed in New Jersey as an online gambling site. Las Vegas Sands is of course owned by Sheldon Adelson, the Sheldon Adelson who is currently spending millions of dollars to repeal online gambling in the United States, which will likely make the next Sands board meeting quite interesting. Perhaps Ader is simply taking a contrarian stance, or perhaps he realizes Adelsons efforts to ban online gambling are futile. Either way it makes for an interesting debate and is yet another interesting addition to the already tangled plot line that is online gambling in the US. 6 Casinos receive online poker extensions As we reported earlier this week, the Nevada Gaming Control Board (NGCB) extended the licenses for six Nevada casinos, allowing them to continue to develop their online poker products (if they choose to do so) without having to renew their license applications
a renewal process that would have come with a six-figure price tag. Here are the six casinos that received online poker license extensions in Nevada:
Boomtown Reno Truckstop
Grand Siena (Reno)
LV Golden Nugget
Boyd Interactive Gaming You can read our entire write up on this story here. A Historical look at gambling revenue in Nevada With the Nevada Gaming Control Board finally releasing data on online poker revenue, which is currently looking like a $150 million a year industry based on the revenue numbers (Nevadas cut of that revenue will be about $10 million per year) I thought it would be a good time to take a look at the bigger picture of the revenue generated by the casino industry in the state. Based on the following numbers, the online poker revenues being generated in the state are a mere drop in the bucket, but with revenues down $2.5 billion from their peak in 2007, every hundred million counts!
2001 $9.3 Billion
2002 $8.9 Billion
2003 $9.2 Billion
2004 $9.9 Billion
2005 $10.5 Billion
2006 $11.8 Billion
2007 $12.5 Billion
2008 $12 Billion
2009 $10.5 Billion
2010 $9.9 Billion
2011 $10.1 Billion
2012 $9.9 Billion
2013 $10.1 Billion You can find more historical gaming data at UNLVs Nevada Revenue page. Weekly Guaranteed Tournaments in Nevada WSOP.com Sunday $15K Guaranteed A really strong turnout of 110 players registered for the $15k Guaranteed at WSOP.com this past Sunday, creating a prize-pool of $22,000. Considering the recent turnouts the site may want to consider bumping the guarantee up to $20,000. Here is a look at the final table payouts from the tournament:
Pweda287 $462 WSOP Main Event Satellite For the first week since it has been offered, the WSOP.com satellite to the World Series of Poker Main Event didnt offer an overlay, as a total of 55 players registered for the tournament, creating a prize-pool of $11,000:
1more1time $10,000 seat to the 2014 World Series of Poker Main Event
BShriver5 $1,000 The $10K Guarantee tournament at Ultimate Poker While WSOP.com saw a nice uptick in tournament attendance it seems to have come at the expense of Ultimate Poker, which saw just 88 players register for their $10K Guaranteed tournament this past Sunday, which meant an overlay of nearly $2,000. For the second time in three weeks William Reynolds managed to make the final table, this time finishing in 6th place.
I Love Beer $2,000
BrownPride $300 Traffic trends in Nevada After a few months of steady decline there is finally a bit of good news coming out of Nevada as average cash-game traffic at WSOP.com has ticked back up to 110 players after dipping below 100 just two weeks ago according to www.pokerscout.coms data. Ultimate Poker also saw some small gains for the second straight week as the site now boasts average cash gamed traffic of 75 players. South Points Real Gaming online poker site continues to be a complete non-factor in the market with average traffic still sitting at 0 although the site is still in a testing period and hasnt been marketed at all at this point. Overall, Nevadas online cash-game traffic is once again approaching 200 players. The word on the street Culinary Union okays strike Last week we told you that the Culinary Union had authorized a strike of Downtown Las Vegas Casino, and this week the picket lines began as the Las Vegas Sun reported. It will be interesting to see how this story plays out, as it could be bad for both sides.
WSOP.coms customer support has been anything but supportive according to poker players on the 2+2 poker forum, but are they casting blame at the right people? At issue is the companys handling of a collusion complaint, more specifically the follow-up questions regarding the investigation, which has now morphed into a critical analysis of their customer support in general. Coming under specific fire is the Head of Poker at WSOP.com Bill Rini, who is arguably the highest profile WSOP.com employee, and also the most reachable of WSOP.com higher-ups. Unfortunately, it appears that most people arent looking at the situation critically and Bill has become a scapegoat of sorts. What happened? First off, lets not lose sight of the fact that WSOP.com did investigate the situation promptly; caught and punished the colluders; and refunded the affected player*. So a job well done on that front. *After digging a bit deeper the players in question seemed to be colluding and had their accounts shut down. No restitution was made to psasjc. Its unclear if the alleged colluders had the money from their accounts confiscated. Where the criticisms began was in the aftermath, when the affected player (psasjc on the 2+2 poker forum) sought clarification on certain aspects of the investigation and felt as though he was being stonewalled and ignored. His concerns were curtly answered by Bill Rini, who told psasjc this was not something the company would talk about publicly, and their investigative methods and personal information were off limits. This has always been a major point of contention between online poker rooms and online poker players, as the poker community thinks they are owed certain information, especially after the many scandals in the industries past. But this is simply not the case. How collusion is dealt with is not something WSOP.com has to relay to the community, its something they have to relay to regulators. The situation received even more attention when it appeared on the PokerFraudAlert.com forum, with the sites owner Todd Witteles going so far as to contact Caesars Interactive CEO Mitch Garber, and discussing the matter with another Caesars bigwig Seth Palansky. Palansky reiterated some of Rinis comments to the community, stating that the 2+2 forum was not a support forum and they were moving away from discussing any support related questions there. Palansky also expressed support for Bill Rini and the job he has done. A part of the story most people are overlooking What wasnt mentioned during any of the forum outcry, or in the discussion between Witteles and Palansky is something it seems that very few people are aware of: Caesars is not in charge of their customer support department. *WSOP.com does have some customer support people on staff who act in a managerial capacity.* Their online gambling partner 888 runs customer support for the WSOP.com site. So, while Bill and WSOP.com employees can bring these complaints to 888, it is then up to 888 to sort through everything and at that point there is little anyone from WSOP.com can do. The stones being cast at WSOP.com should probably be redirected at 888, although WSOP.com does bear some responsibility for the overall poor customer support. But Bill Rini really has little to do with any support issues. What we have is a situation where Bill Rini has been thrust into a position where he is seemingly the face of the sites customer support, even if that isnt part of his job description. This puts him in a very awkward of situation of not being able to answer the questions being posed to him, similar to a manager in name only. Is it a big deal? The US online poker industry is currently facing a number of issues they have no control over, from geolocation to payment processing, so you would think the last thing they would want to do is open themselves up to more criticism on issues they can control, like customer service. For some people that have been jaded by the multitude of online poker scandals over the years this lack of communication is a very big deal, as virtually every online poker scandal perpetrated by a poker room was precipitated by poor customer support and a lack of answers from the site in question. So the reaction by the community is somewhat understandable. That being said, we are in a different time and place now, and WSOP.com is a regulated online poker room. Poor customer support and no comment type answers may be frustrating and are certainly not the best business model, but they no longer indicate more nefarious goings on below the surface. My feeling on this is that the situation is what it is, a poorly run customer service department; something many companies are plagued by see American Airlines and not some broader conspiracy or portent of how the business is run as a whole. The root of the problem First off, 888s customer support is far from ideal, in fact, most would call it abysmal thus far. WSOP.com could conceivably create their own customer service department, and hire someone skilled at answering questions on poker forums (arguably the hardest job in the world) but they really shouldnt have to; this is supposed to be taken care of by 888, and Caesars has their own financial constraints its already dealing with. That being said, WSOP.com (and quite frankly every US online poker room with the possible exception of Ultimate Poker) hasnt done the best job of communicating with the poker community on a number of levels. Its somewhat unclear who the go-to guys from the company are, evidenced by Bill Rini having to deal with customer support questions. Furthermore, WSOP.com seems to want an idealized existence, and poker is far from ideal. The idea that they can have a dedicated forum on 2+2 and not expect to receive customer support questions is unreasonable. Poker players are accustomed to bringing complaints to light on 2+2 and if you have a dedicated forum you are going to be bombarded by customer support questions whether you want them or not. *WSOP.com expects to receive general customer service questions in their 2+2 forum, but if a request is specific, or requires account information to be accessed WSOP.com would like those to go through standard CS channels.*
The 2014 World Series of Poker is just around the corner and this will mark the first WSOP tournament series where visitors will have the chance to play at one of Nevadas licensed online poker rooms. With the WSOP brand also home to the largest online poker room in the state, many players making their annual migration will have a unique opportunity to enhance their poker experience this summer, and the WSOP is welcoming this; allowing players to play online poker while playing in WSOP events, and even setting aside a designated computer area with a secure wi-fi network in the Pavilion Room dubbed the Grind Room. So if you are ready to grind, here is what you need to know to create and fund your WSOP.com account while youre in Nevada. Creating an online poker account Creating an online poker account in Nevada is a fairly simple process, but youll definitely want to make sure you have all your ducks in a row before getting started. This isnt the old days where you simply type in a name and click a box saying youre over 18 and type in On the river as your address, in the new regulated market youll need to prove who you are and fill out the required information with care and attentiveness. Also, a word of warning, youll need to surrender your Social Security number. Expert tip #1: Preregister! One of the nice things about a site like WSOP.com is that even though you can only play for real money in Nevada you can preregister and have your account and identity verified beforehand. The first thing youll need to do is download the WSOP.com software, a process that takes just a couple minutes. Once the download completes youll be prompted to log-in or create a new account. Expert tip #2: Check and double check your info! If you mess up on even a very minor piece of data your registration process will suddenly become far more difficult and time consuming. Make sure everything matches up precisely before clicking submit. Once you finish the registration process you will be asked to confirm your WSOP.com registration via E-Mail, and youll be ready to play once your account is funded, which you can only do once youre inside Nevadas borders of course. Payment options when you get into Nevada You can register your account out of state, but as mentioned above, you will only be allowed to fund your account when you are physically in Nevada, so youll need to put some thought into and coordinate how you will fund your account beforehand. Expert Tip #3: Have a backup plan! Planning on funding your account via an ACH check or a credit card is great, but you should also formulate a contingency plan in case something goes wrong. If possible, make sure you have more than one funding option available when you head to Las Vegas at the end of the month. Here are your options: Cash at the Cage According to WSOP.com Head of Poker Bill Rini, players will be able to deposit in person at the Rio by the time the World Series of Poker rolls around. This option isnt available at present an WSOP.com is not guaranteeing it will be ready to go when the WSOP starts, but its as close to a guarantee as you can get, short of something improbable occurring like the grid going down. If you can swing it (and by swing it I mean travel with thousands of dollars) this is the way to go, and would be my #1 choice. Neteller The best way to fund your account while visiting Nevada short of walking around with thousands of dollars in your suitcase is by setting up a Neteller account. There will be some small fees youll have to pay, but like preregistering your WSOP.com account you can have your Neteller loaded up and ready to go the second you land in Vegas, which makes Neteller a surefire way for out of state players to fund their account. Even if you plan on using another funding source it would be wise to have a Neteller account in your back pocket in case it is needed, and setting it up beforehand is critical. Credit Cards (Visa and MasterCard) Credit cards are a precarious way to fund your online poker account, with MasterCard success rates hovering around 75% while Visa is still about a 50/50 proposition, with Visa transactions declined over 50% of the time. Certain banks like Bank of America and Wells Fargo are known to still be declining online poker transactions despite their legal status in Nevada, and many other smaller banks have followed suit. If a credit card is your primary funding method make sure you have a backup plan. ACH (eChecks) One of the most reliable funding options is sending an eCheck, but this could present problems for players whose bank is not in-state, and ACH checks can take a couple days to clear. If you can set it up this is a very reliable method, with few transaction denials, but it will also be one of the more logistically difficult. Expert Tip #4: Withdraw from anywhere in the world! Depositing has to occur within Nevadas borders but you are able to initiate a withdrawal from anywhere in the world. So fear not, if you go on a nice run at WSOP.com in Nevada you can request a withdrawal when you get back home.
Ultimate Poker has been very busy in Nevada over the past week, as the nations first licensed online poker room inked a deal that will bring five new casinos under the Ultimate Poker umbrella; announced a new $25 freeplay offer available to all new players at the site; and launched a new web series starring UP Pro and brand ambassador Antonio The Magician Esfandiari. So, if you havent been keeping up with the latest goings on at Ultimate Poker here is what youve missed. UPs deal with Peppermill At the tail end of last week Ultimate Poker announced it had added Peppermill Resort Spa Casino in Reno, Nevada to the UP brand, along with the companys four other casino properties in northern Nevada, the Western Village Inn and Casino in Sparks, Nevada and the Rainbow Hotel Casino, Peppermill Hotel Casino and Montego Bay Casino all located in Wendover, Nevada. While the deal isnt exactly in the earth shattering categoryPeppermill and its four other casino properties will be something more akin to affiliate sites of Ultimate Poker and not skins for the online poker roomit should be quite beneficial to Ultimate Poker on two separate fronts. First, Ultimate Poker can now use Peppermills extensive player list databases to market directly to a whole new group of players. Secondly, with all of the payment processing issues US players are currently facing the addition of the five Peppermill properties gives Ultimate Poker five new locations throughout Nevada where players can deposit and withdraw funds from their UP accounts. This is especially helpful considering the Peppermill properties are in Reno, Sparks, and Wendover, as Station Casinos (the owners of Ultimate Poker) already have the Las Vegas area covered. The deal still needs the approval of Nevada regulators, but there is nothing out of the ordinary or controversial that is likely to prevent it from being finalized. For more information on the deal you can read Howard Stutzs excellent column. Ultimate Pokers new $25 Freeplay offer Ultimate Poker is looking for new players and they are rewarding prospective customers with a free $25 to get them started. This offer is available to all first-time players at the online poker site, and does not require the player to make a deposit of any kind. As the Ultimate Poker website states: Strip Magic with Antonio Ultimate Pokers chief spokesmen and best known sponsored pro is Antonio The Magician Esfandiari, and if youre wondering how Antonio got his nickname it wasnt because he could make his opponents chips disappear and reappear in his own stack (although he is pretty proficient at that as well). No, Antonio got his nickname because in his pre-poker days he was a budding magician and judging by the first installment of the Strip Magic web series released by Ultimate Poker he has been keeping up with his sleight of hand tricks. The videos not only show Antonio performing impromptu street magic on the Las Vegas Strip, but also delve into his background, including his time as a magician and how he worked his way up through the poker ranks. All in all, its a very well done video. At two and a half minutes its not so long as to be unwatchable and just long enough to leave you thirsting for more episodes. Filming street magic takes me back to a special time in my life, remarked Ultimate Poker Brand Ambassador and magician Antonio Esfandiari. I was a kid with a dream to be the next David Copperfield. That is all I cared about until I discovered poker. To succeed at poker and go back to magic as a hobby on the streets of Las Vegas was very fun for me. For more episodes of Strip Magic and to see UPs other YouTube clips you can visit their YouTube page at youtube.com/ultimatepoker.
Faster withdrawal times, improved oversight and transparency, and the knowledge that your money is safe and secure are just a few of improvements regulated online poker will offer US players. In this column Ill make the case why US players should start jumping on the regulated online poker bandwagon and swearing off unregulated online poker rooms. If youre on the fence or having a hard time quitting your current unregulated online poker room then I suggest you keep reading. Reason #1 Oversight With the onset of legalized, regulated online poker, US online poker players have their state regulatory bodies to lean on and hold accountable, who in turn have to answer to elected officials in the state. These added layers of oversight are the reason live casinos are so trusted when it comes to the safety of your money and the fairness of the games being offered in the United States, and now these same protections will extend to online casinos and poker rooms. If you play at a licensed, regulated online poker site, never again will you have to worry whether or not the people protecting your money is little more than a fly-by-night offshore regulatory body that has setup shop in some far-flung locale: Regulatory bodies that rely on the same companies they are overseeing for their very existence with some, like Kahnawakes Joe Norton, possessing ownership interests in the very poker rooms they are suppose to regulate! Reason #2 Transparency In addition to having more reputable and legitimate oversight, regulated online poker rooms are far more transparent, allowing patrons to see everything from their licensing details to the companys management structure, to the breakdown of their rake structure which is now required by law. Now that online poker rooms are subjected to legitimate licensing requirements that require transparency, the potential for a shady individual to hide within a companys infrastructure (or hide their involvement through a shell company) is a thing of the past. There will be no more October Surprises for online poker players. This transparency also prevents companies from using player funds to pay for other operational expenses, as safeguards are now in place that require frequent audits and stipulate the manner in which a company holds player funds. Reason #3 Improved Payment Processing One of the most immediate and noticeable improvements that will come about from a regulated online poker market will be the speed with which withdrawals are processed, and the safety of the funds you have in your online account. Online poker players in the US will no longer have to wait weeks to months for a check to arrive, and will no longer have to fret that the check might be printed on rubber paper. From now on, when you deposit at an online poker room, your money will not immediately lose value (players at some current unregulated sites sell their account balances for mere pennies on the dollar) and it will no longer be tied-up for months on end. In addition to the peace of mind that comes with knowing you have access to your money, players will also have far more deposit and withdrawal options to choose from, with payment processors and credit cards no longer restricted from handling online poker transactions provided they are themselves licensed. Reason #4 Look at the track record If I still havent convinced you why you should choose regulated online poker sites over unregulated online poker rooms, look no further than the track-record of unregulated Internet poker sites over the years:
PokerSpot PokerSpot was the first online poker site to leave the poker community high and dry in 2002, when the Dutch Boyd led poker room went belly up owing some $400,000 to their players money that still has not been paid back to this day.
Ultimate Bet Over the course of several years, Ultimate Bet insiders stole tens-of-millions of dollars from players through a cheating program, and when the DOJ indicted the owners of the site on April 15, 2011, UB continued to accept deposits and later went belly-up owing the community somewhere in the realm of seven figures.
Absolute Poker Like their sister site Ultimate Bet (the two companies merged in 2010), AP was another site involved in an insider cheating scandal, and left players out in the cold, owing millions, when they were finally shut-down.
Full Tilt Poker US Full Tilt Poker players are still waiting for about $150 million of their money; money they have not had access to since April 15, 2011.
Lock Poker How bad is the situation at Lock Poker? Lock Pokers withdrawal times are so slow, and the companys ability to pay is in such question that $100 of Lock Poker money is worth somewhere between $10 and $25 on the open market. And this doesnt even cover the countless examples of online poker rooms seizing legitimate accounts, slowpaying their players, or turning a blind eye to cheating. Its time to toss away the security blanket and demand whats better Change is hard, and it can be unpleasant at first, but sometimes its absolutely necessary, and when it comes to online poker in the US, changing from an unregulated to a regulated market is absolutely necessary. Fortunately, that change is starting to occur across the United States, with licensed Nevada online poker rooms up and running, and Delaware and New Jersey on the precipice of joining the list of states with regulated online poker. But even in locales that have licensed online poker rooms, many online poker players are still playing at, or considering playing at, unregulated online poker sites. As I outlined above this is a major mistake. It might be the appeal of larger player pools, or the bonuses and promotions being offered that lure you in, but just remember: There is a reason the site is offering you a deal that seems too good to be true, and more importantly, there is a reason the site has not applied for a license or has been turned down. Sure, some unregulated online poker sites have done right by you over the years, and some unregulated online poker rooms have very good track records and decent reputations. But keep two things in mind: 1. These sites are already breaking at least one law by operating in the US, so what other laws are they willing to break? 2. Unlicensed sites are graded on a very steep curve, and if the curve includes sites like Ultimate Bet, Lock Poker, and PokerSpot, its not hard to come out looking like a well-oiled machine. These unlicensed sites are hoping you turn a blind eye to their failings, and choose familiarity and the status quo over progress. The valedictorian of summer school Even if an unregulated site has a solid reputation even these supposed well-oiled machines have their problems. In the current unregulated market they dont even appear to be problems, but in a regulated market, lengthy withdrawal times, unnecessary fees, and lackluster security against collusion and poker bots would never be tolerated. They are for lack of a better term, the valedictorian of summer school. Since their offshore licensing bodies dont demand tight security measures and dont have the capability of diligent oversight, these problems are currently just accepted as part of the process by online poker players; in a regulated market they are being stamped out. In poker forum parlance: Regulated Poker > Unregulated Poker.
Earlier this week Howard Stutz of the Las Vegas Review-Journal ran a column indicating that Caesars Entertainment had sold four of its casino properties to one of its subsidiary companies, Caesars Growth Partners. The move has many people wondering if the restructuring is Caesars way of preparing for a bankruptcy filing down the road or if its just creative accounting to keep the company afloat and far away from bankruptcy court. While a bankruptcy filing, and even the talk of bankruptcy for a company with an estimated value of over $20 billion that is the owner of the most recognizable brand in poker, the World Series of Poker, may come as a shock to the average personconsidering that if you live in the United States there is a good chance you are within driving distance of a Caesars propertyfor followers of the industry it has been a matter of when not if Caesars will undergo a restructuring with a possible Chapter 11 filing. The sale According to Howard Stutz, Caesars Entertainment will transfer ownership of Ballys Las Vegas, The Quad, the under-construction Cromwell, and Harrahs New Orleans to Caesars Growth Partners for $2.2 billion. Caesars Growth Partners will also take on over $400 million in debt and obligations. The sale of the four properties saw Caesars stock prices dip slightly, $.39 a share, but shares are still selling at over $25 a piece. Investors and analysts were skeptical that the sale would help either company in the long-run, and the move seems to be more of a short-term band aid by infusing Caesars Entertainment with some operating capital. In the LVRJ article Moodys felt the sale is likely the first in a series of steps to address (the companys) unsustainable capital structure. Needless to say the companys financial sheets dont exactly instill many people with confidence that Caesars can dig itself out if its hole. Dont misunderstand what a Chapter 11 filing would mean A lot of people hear the world bankruptcy and immediately think of seized property, auctions, and shuttered doors. But dont think that Caesars and its properties are just going to be auctioned off if the company files for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. Chapter 11 allows the business to continue operating, under court supervision, while it restructures its debts. While Im definitely not an expert in bankruptcy law, my understanding of the situation is that by selling the four properties to their subsidiary, Caesars has effectively removed these properties from any restructuring by the courtwhich could force Caesars to liquidate certain assets to meet its debt obligations. Caesars problems are their own doing Caesars is a very fitting name for a gaming company whose empire stretches far and wide, and while I dont expect the companys downfall to come at the hands of an insurrection during the Ides of March as befell the historical Caesar, their end may be caused by the same failings that brought about the decline of the Roman Empire, namely being spread too thin. When gaming was booming, Caesars / Harrahs was very active in acquiring properties in the run-up to the financial meltdown, and just before the economy took a turn for the worse the company went private. So yes, external factors (the economic collapse of 2008) exacerbated Caesars problems, but the companys business plan shoulders the brunt of the blame. With the numerous purchases and takeovers of rivals, the company may hold some $20-something billion in assets, but Caesars has also racked up an unbelievable $20-something billion of debt, and now owns a number of properties worth a fraction of what Caesars paid for them prior to the real estate bubble bursting. Caesars future While they are in a tough spot at the moment, it would be extremely premature to write Caesars off. Here is why:
Caesars is the only casino operating a relevant online gambling site in both Nevada and New Jersey, and the company has been at the forefront of the online gaming industry.
Caesars is also the most prominent company in Atlantic City gambling, owning four of the 11 casinos in the city, and owning the now-closed Atlantic Club property.
Caesars is also the only major casino corporation with properties in multiple states from Iowa, to Mississippi, to Missouri, to Louisiana, to Ohio. Having a presence in so many states should make Caesars path to interstate online gambling much easier than their competitors. Basically, Caesars is primed to be a leader in the online gambling market in the US, and if thats where the company sees the future of industry (which is an arguable point) than they have positioned themselves perfectly.
Last week the Nevada Gaming Control Board (NGCB) granted six casinos an extension for their online poker licenses according to the Las Vegas Sun. None of the six casinos have launched an online poker product at this point. Under Nevada law, companies that are approved for online poker licenses were required to launch their software within a set amount of time. These recently granted extensions give the following six companies an additional six months to submit their software to the NGCB for testing:
Boomtown Reno Truckstop
Grand Siena (Reno)
LV Golden Nugget
Boyd Interactive Gaming Even with the extensions dont expect a sudden rush of sites to launch in the coming months, as the extensions do not necessarily mean all of these companies are even working towards launching online poker sites in Nevada anytime soon. The extensions will give a site like Z4 (which has been working towards launching an online poker site) the additional time it needs, and it will also allow the other companies a few extra months to observe the industry, including how the interstate compact with Delaware affects the Nevada industry when it is expected to go into effect this summer. Whats the holdup? Given the small market size and the muddied waters brought on by the possibility of a federal ban on online gambling, it now appears that most companies in Nevada are now taking a wait and see approach, evidenced by the words of Ellen Whittemore, an attorney representing MGM Resorts, who told the Las Vegas Sun that the MGM, was continuing to monitor the industry. Jeff Silver, a lawyer for Carson Station and Max was a bit more blunt in his remarks, stating that an online poker room needs 500 players to be viable (Im not sure where Silver came up with this number) and called the Nevada online poker industry a loser according to the Las Vegas Sun article. Online poker traffic in Nevada The Nevada market has proven to be small even taking into account the states small population of 2.8 million and barely capable of supporting Ultimate Poker and WSOP.com at present. The average online cash-game traffic for all three online poker rooms in Nevada is hovering below 200 players according to www.pokerscout.com; a number that would rank Nevadas online poker industry in the low 30s worldwide, below online poker providers like Sky Poker, Enet, and OnGame France. For comparisons sake, PokerStars average cash-game traffic over the same period of time is 21,000 players according to PokerScout.com, and sites like iPoker, Full Tilt, partypoker, and 888 have 15-20x the traffic of the entire Nevada industry. Revenue reports dont support further growth Beyond the small market and limited room for growth, there is also the matter of the long-awaited revenue reports released by the NGCB in March which showed the Nevada online poker market generating less than $1 million a month in revenue; $824,000 in February 2014, and $8.5 million since launching in April of 2013. This number that will likely further frighten other potential providers, considering the initial cost of an online poker license in Nevada is $500,000, with a yearly renewal fee of $250,000. That expenditure is on top of the 6.75% tax on gross revenue they must pay. Considering the current cumulative traffic of the three online poker rooms operating in the state and the current revenue being generated, it doesnt appear that Nevada has the liquidity to support more than one online poker room, let alone a half-dozen more, so these extensions may be more for show than anything.