On Wednesday Ultimate Poker celebrated its First Anniversary. UP became the first licensed online poker room in the United States on April 30, 2013 and has now reached the historic one-year mark.
While it seems like only yesterday the 2+2 forum exploded with the news that Ultimate Poker had gone live for real money play, it has in fact been a full year since online poker arrived in the United States (on a limited basis anyway) and it’s been quite the year, filled with ups and downs for the nascent industry.
Here is a look at what I consider to be the most important things online poker players and the online poker industry have learned over the past 12 months.
Regulated poker rooms are not just unregulated rooms repackaged
I think a lot of people expected licensed online poker sites to simply pick up where the unlicensed sites left off, and this simply was not the case.
You can see why people were of this mind, after all, companies like 888 and Party Poker are well known commodities in the iGaming world and have been providing a solid product for years.
But a funny thing happened on the way to the NGCB for their licenses; regulators imposed some strict thresholds that needed to be crossed (some for the first time ever) including all manner of testing.
Add to this the geolocation, payment processing and registration hurdles that needed to be cleared and what we got looked more like the birth of online poker back in the late 1990’s and less like the crisp clean graphics and seamless game play we had grown accustomed to by 2011.
Basically, it’s going to take some time for the sites to iron everything out, but eventually I feel we will be back to complaining about insignificant things like tournament structures, and not about mid-game disconnects, by the time online poker turns 2 in the US.
Poker players follow the money
As much as the poker community has whined and cried for legal online poker over the years a huge swathe of players still frequent black market sites now that they have it.
I understand they think they are getting better value and the illegal sites have more and better games, but it’s just delaying the time it takes for the legal rooms to overtake them – so the poker community is putting short-term gains in front of long-term gains.
Don’t launch if you’re not ready
Online poker is a hyper-competitive market and what we’ve seen so far is that inferior products are getting absolutely stiff-armed by players.
In Nevada, Ultimate Poker, despite a six-month head start, a lot of advertising, and an excellent team and staff has watched WSOP.com slowly suffocate them – to use a UFC analogy, they are stuck in a triangle choke and it seems like it’s only a matter of time before they either do something big to get out of it or have to tap out.
The situation is even worse in New Jersey where UP didn’t get a head start and had to compete right out of the chute. In New Jersey the company has been unable to generate any type of loyal customer base and is turning into a nonfactor in the market.
If Ultimate Poker is stuck in a triangle choke than South Point’s Real Gaming in Nevada and Betfair’s poker product in New Jersey have had their arm snapped and been asphyxiated, as neither site is even registering on the online poker radar.
To me the message seems crystal clear: Don’t launch your product unless you’re ready, as you’ll probably do irreparable harm.
The future is yet to be determined
We’re just now getting a grasp on the amount of money sites are spending marketing (which equates to millions of dollars being pumped into the local economies) and the number of real jobs being created by the online poker industry both in-house and in ancillary industries like yours truly.
What this tells me is the entire industry is still surrounded by an opaque cloud that is preventing even the best prognosticators from understanding precisely what will happen.
On top of this we are also facing down a potential federal ban (unlikely) and more and more states exploring iGaming expansion. We have the pending interstate agreement between Delaware and Nevada set to launch this summer, with New Jersey now being floated as a potential partner as well.
So when someone tells you, “xyz is going to happen and anyone who doesn’t think so is daft” just remember that nobody has been able to predict this burgeoning industry so far.
Looking ahead to Year 2
Think of the US online poker industry like an episode of Restaurant Impossible.
The place was a dump, one employee was stealing, and the owner was too stubborn to listen to anyone.
The place needed to be gutted and that’s exactly what licensed online poker has done. Regulated online poker is our Chef Robert Irvine.
Year 1 (like Day 1 of Restaurant Impossible) was certainly a struggle, but it feels like the heavy lifting is now done. The place has been cleaned and remodeled, the owner has seen the light, and the thieving employee is gone.
All that’s left is to clean it up a bit and reopen the doors.
Sure, there will still be hiccups as people are retrained, and the owner may revert back to old habits every now and then, but the foundation is in place to build on.