USA TODAY: With Fertitta-backed Ultimate Poker, online gaming in U.S. underway


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lorenzo-fertitta-2.jpg(This story originally appeared on usatoday.com.)

Online poker players are out of the darkness.

At least in the U.S. And at least on the Internet.

On Tuesday, Ultimate Poker (ultimatepoker.com) became the first to provide legal online gaming in the U.S.

Tom Breitling, chairman of Ultimate Gaming said this “is a big moment” for the 50 million poker players in the U.S. “because its been this roller coaster ride over the past decade and we know that people like to play online poker and know they can be in a safe and secure environment.”

Station Casinos LLC of Las Vegas, which is controlled by UFC co-owners Lorenzo Fertitta and Frank Fertitta III, owns a majority stake in Ultimate Poker. The poker room is the UFC’s exclusive online gaming partner.

This is the first step to the path of multiple states possibly legalizing online gaming, which could generate billions of dollars.

Bree Goldman, who played in the first hand today, expects “a slow buildup because of legislation issues,” but does expect growth eventually.

“I think this will be very popular, very quickly in Nevada,” she said. “It is going to take interstate pacts in order for this to expand. Until that happens it won’t be a huge explosion. But this is definitely a huge foot in the door for this market. This had to happen for legislation to pass.”

Currently, New Jersey and Delaware have passed legislation but have yet to play their hand. Nevada for now remains the sole state to have put their legislation into action.

The first deal was Tuesday at noon ET. Players must be at least 21 years old and be located in the state of Nevada. Players can register from other states prior to their arrival in Nevada.

Games will be as small as 25-cent bet tournaments and $300 limit table. The company believes the games will be a complement to casino gambling and not a competitor. The goal is to allow players who may be intimidated in a casino or otherwise more comfortable in an online setting.

With millions of Americans who play some form of poker, the company is pledging to create the tools to protect players and regulate the gaming space.

“This is, for Nevada, a new day,” Reno gaming analyst Ken Adams told the Gazette-Journal. “There’s been a huge amount of speculation on what online gaming means. Estimates in New Jersey run from $20 (million) to $30 million to $2 (billion) to $3 billion. The only way to find out is when it starts. Up to now, we’ve been talking in theories. Now we’ll get a peek at reality.”

Breitling said casino poker generates just 1 percent of all gaming revenues in Nevada and that online gambling should only aid casino gambling.

“A lot of people want to play online and offline poker,” he said. “We think it will drive what we call poker tourism. People will come here to play online but might qualify for an offline tournament. We’re all about making poker fun again.”

Added CEO Tobin Prior: “At 4 o’clock in the afternoon, when you want a game, it is a lot easier to put those people together on the Internet than it is to do it in a physical environment. It is a logical way to grow the market.”

According to the Associated Press, Internet poker has been strictly outlawed since 2011, when the Department of Justice seized domain names of offshore sites catering to U.S. customers. AP says the crackdown was dubbed “black Friday” and left poker fanatics with two options: visit a card room, or break the law and log into offshore sites.

“I think the real excitement will be when we get a very populous state like a California or a New York allowing these companies to expand,” ITG casino analyst Matthew Jacob told the AP. “But these changes often take longer to occur than people assume. It requires a change in law and then it takes a while from when the law passes until the sites are up and running.”

(Pictured: Lorenzo Fertitta)

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