Regulated online poker in the US is becoming a reality – three states have already cleared the path for online poker and more are actively considering it. Despite the favorable news and momentum for online poker over the past year, I’ve had difficulty grasping this new reality. That started to change last month when I visited the offices of Ultimate Poker in Las Vegas. Ultimate Poker and its parent company, Fertitta Interactive, are clearly gearing up for a market opportunity that is very real and potentially massive. This Ultimate Poker review will give a sneak peak at what is currently happening behind the scenes.
Fertitta Interactive is majority owned by Station Casinos. As you may know, the Station Casinos are owned by the Fertitta brothers, the same duo that owns the UFC. In the cab on the way to meet with Ultimate Poker I assumed I was going to Fertitta’s headquarters. I expected to be surrounded by UFC paraphernalia while meeting with the poker team in a tucked-away corner of the office. After all, there is currently no real market for them in the U.S., so I wasn’t expecting much.
I couldn’t have been more mistaken. Ultimate Poker already has its own office (pictured below) – a 20,000 square foot warehouse just off the Strip behind CityCenter.
Fertitta is not starting small and feeling things out. They are making a huge investment early to try to become the major player in regulated U.S. online poker. As you can see from the pictures, the office is still being built out, but there are already various salaried employees grinding away in the offices that line the walls of the main room.
These salaried employees are not random casino guys with no online experience – many of them have worked in some capacity with PokerStars over the years. I met with Joe Versaci, whom Adam Small and I had met with various times when he was the head of North American marketing for PokerStars. Joe is joined at Ultimate Poker by PokerStars vet Scott Yeates, one of the minds behind the beloved PokerStars VIP Program. Then there’s Terrence TChan Chan, who started his career by building PokerStars’ support team before going on to become a professional poker player and MMA fighter. These guys definitely know what they are doing.
For software, Fertitta Interactive purchased CyberArts, a gaming software company that has been in the business since 1995. The purchase of CyberArts positions the Ultimate Gaming brand to compete in various gaming markets across several platforms worldwide, but the focus will be on regulated online poker in the United States. CyberArts’ CEO Chris Derossi stayed on to lead Ultimate Poker’s software team.
Ultimate Poker is bullish on the prospects of a compact forming quickly as states review their options and realize the added benefits of increased liquidity. They weren’t able to share any specific projections on a number of states in the near future, but the amount of resources they are pouring into this is telling.
I haven’t spoken much with the other companies that have received Nevada licenses, but I hope to find others making a similar investment. It’s going to be a long road, but the Fertitta brothers are ready for that. They’ve already persevered through a similar state-by-state regulation battle with UFC. PocketFives will keep you updated on all the state by state regulation news as it breaks. For now, we can all take some comfort in the fact that a strong, reputable group like Fertitta is making a major investment in regulated US online poker.