Right now in New Jersey, partypoker is counting down to their 30 millionth hand dealt and running a $40,000 promotion to celebrate the milestone, but another licensed US online poker provider has already reached this milestone, Ultimate Poker, which reached the milestone earlier this week.
Of course, Ultimate Poker’s accomplishment isn’t quite as impressive as the one partypoker is working up to, considering Ultimate Poker is counting both New Jersey and Nevada in their calculation, the latter of which has been up and running for nearly a year.
In my opinion, Ultimate Poker has been the most enigmatic of the first wave of US online poker rooms, with the site excelling in terms of promotions, marketing, and customer service, but coming up short when it comes to their actual product.
Overall, UP does a lot of things really well, but they also have some issues that seem to be deal-breakers amongst the online poker community.
Still, in my opinion Ultimate Poker has the highest ceiling of any of the US sites, but that being said, the window is starting to close.
Ultimate Poker software
Ultimate Poker’s main problem thus far has without doubt been the site’s inferior software.
UP decided to build their online poker software in-house (buying the software development company CyberArts in 2011 to handle the cumbersome project of creating an online poker room) and foregoing a partnership with an already established provider.
The reasoning behind this decision was likely to avoid splitting revenue with what Ultimate Poker deemed an unnecessary collaborator, and this may turn out to be a very wise decision down the road; provided Ultimate Poker can weather their early software shortcomings without falling into irrelevancy.
Thus far Ultimate Poker has released one significant software upgrade, and while the upgrade fixed a number of problems with the software it still lacks many of the features their competitors offer and online poker players expect.
Ultimate Poker marketing
On the other hand, Ultimate Poker’s marketing efforts have been innovative, fairly well-publicized, and well-received.
This is something the site had to get right, considering Ultimate Poker was an original brand that needed to be marketed — Ultimate Poker has very little brand connection to Station Casinos or even the Ultimate Fighting Championship.
From Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) tie-ins to their usage of the internet and their sponsored pros like Antonio Esfandiari, Jason Somerville, and Terrence Chan, Ultimate Poker has done a better-than-expected job of getting their brand out to the public, but more work certainly needs to be done, especially in New Jersey.
My one real criticism of Ultimate Poker’s early marketing efforts is the lack of marketing in New Jersey, which falls at the feet of both Ultimate Gaming and their New Jersey partner the Trump Taj Mahal.
Ultimate Poker promotions
Ultimate Poker did an excellent job of creating a player-friendly VIP Rewards Program which is the backbone of an online poker site’s entire promotional offerings.
UP has also been very creative with their other promotions, particularly their NO-verlay promotion that they ran in New Jersey, which turned one of the site’s greatest weaknesses into a strength.
Unfortunately these promotions haven’t had any type of staying power, and even though these promotions have been popular and well-received while they are running, they’ve had little to no impact on the site’s traffic numbers in the long-run.
What to expect from Ultimate Poker in year 2
Ultimate Poker is rumored to be prepping another major software upgrade, and this should certainly be the company’s #1 priority in 2014, as it would seem that without a significant software upgrade the site is going to find it harder and harder to compete as Nevada’s market becomes even more crowded, and UP is already falling into irrelevancy in New Jersey.
I’m also anticipating that Ultimate Poker will ramp-up their cross promotions between Station Casinos, the UFC, and the Trump Taj Mahal to create a stronger tie-in between the brands.
One of the things I’m eagerly awaiting to see is how Ultimate Poker (and the other US online poker rooms for that matter) market during the World Series of Poker tournament series that kicks-off in late May. The WSOP was the catalyst for the Poker Boom, and during the “years of plenty” online poker rooms used the WSOP like Coca Cola, GoDaddy, and Doritos use the Super Bowl.