Update: Ultimate Poker posted a message on its website confirming a Monday, November 17 closing date.
Ultimate Poker announced that it will close its Nevada site. The site is currently still operating and the cashier is fully functional. The closure will occur in an orderly manner. The process requires approval from Nevada gaming regulators.
An Ultimate Poker representative tells USPoker that approval could come as early as the end of business Friday but that the site will likely stay open over the weekend. The current estimate for the site’s closure is Monday, according to the representative. It may take as long as two weeks to receive full approval to cease operations.
Ultimate Poker is the second largest of the three Nevada regulated online poker sites. It holds a market share of about 35 percent, according to stats compiled by PokerScout.com.
Nevada did not release online poker revenues in the state until after three sites were in operation. The closure of Ultimate Poker may restrict the release of this information starting in the first full month of the site’s absence in the Nevada market, which at this point appears to be December.
Not Time to Celebrate
Some players seem genuinely excited about the demise of Ultimate Poker. This is not a cause for celebration.
Ultimate Gaming’s failure has several implications. First, it shows that Station Casinos and other investors felt that outlook for the online gaming market in the U.S. is so hopeless that it wanted to cut its losses now, just 19 months into the game. This is especially troubling since Station Casinos manages a casino in California, which would give it a reasonable point of entry should online poker ever get legalized in that state.
It also hurts Nevada players far more than it affected those in New Jersey. The worst part of Ultimate Gaming leaving New Jersey was the loss of generous promotions. There are far more pressing issues for Nevada players.
Some players have expressed that the player pool should be combined and that Ultimate Poker was fragmenting the market. Many players were seated at tables at both sites at the same time so this was not much of an issue. It was easy to keep funds on both sites.
With Ultimate Poker out of the picture, that gives WSOP.com a virtual monopoly. Competition encourages more promotions than monopolies. I do not expect WSOP.com to simply stop offering players anything due to its market position, but having Ultimate Poker offering great promotions against them could only benefit players.
Many of the players that chose Ultimate Poker did so for a reason. It may have been the great support or the availability of unique games like fixed limit heads up sit and gos or the 7-handed PLO8 sit and gos that ran so often. Some players preferred Ultimate Poker’s software. There are a few people that have told me in chat or in person that they simply won’t play at anything related to Caesars Entertainment for whatever reason.
All of these players may be lost forever. Hopefully WSOP.com can find a way to keep them active in Nevada online poker.
Learn from the Mistakes
There were several issues that hurt Ultimate Poker. Its software was often cited as the biggest issue with the site. The company sacrificed its quality to be the first-mover. It paid off in the short term, but that turned out to be a poor longterm strategy. Planet Poker was the first online poker site and it suffered the same fate. Its poor software was no match for Paradise Poker, which quickly sent Planet Poker into irrelevancy.
Its choice of New Jersey partners turned out to be a disaster. Ultimate Gaming is owed somewhere in the neighborhood of $1.5 million by Trump Taj Mahal, according to a bankruptcy court filing. Ultimate Gaming probably had no idea how dire the financial situation would become for Trump Entertainment in 2014, but there was a major lesson to be learned in putting protections into place that prevent this scenario in the future.
Ultimate Poker’s marketing bordered on nonexistent. Station Casinos advertised them on its properties and in mailers. Beyond that, there was no advertising for its online poker product in Las Vegas. The company purchased billboards and television advertising at its launch. That marketing push ended long ago.
Ultimate Poker’s online marketing was also limited. It did not use affiliates, which was another mistake. WSOP.com advertises on the websites of both Las Vegas newspapers with what appear to be affiliate links. Many poker portals also promote them in highly visible areas of websites that are often geotargeted. Ultimate Poker did none of this. It had a forum at Two Plus Two and that was about it.
Ultimate Poker had a talented staff with years of experience. Many left the building before the company’s final announcement. The original crew knew what was important to players but did not have the support to implement the strategy.