It was some stirring words from the IGaming North America Summit in Las Vegas last week, as Ultimate Gaming execs took to the stage to declare that regulated online gambling in the US represents “victory”. Speaking to an audience at Planet Hollywood, Ultimate Chairman Tom Breitling and CEO Tobin Prior hailed their first year of operations as a success – despite lower-than-predicted revenues – arguing that regulation had created new jobs and gambling sites that could be taxed by the government and trusted by the public.
“Regulation now means victory,” declared Prior, as he pressed for further regulation to be rolled out across America.
In an address that was filled with triumphant soundbites, the pair used the platform to attack the anti-online gambling brigade, lead by Las Vegas Sands head honcho Sheldon Adelson: “Technology works, and prohibition doesn’t,” said Breitling emphatically.
Beyond the rhetoric, the talk provided a fascinating glimpse into the lessons Breitling and Prior have learned during their first year in charge of America’s initial legal online gambling operation. According to the duo, Ultimate Poker has dealt 27 million hands of poker and spread over 200,000 tournaments since it first launched on April 30, 2013 in Nevada, before also making inroads into New Jersey starting this past November.
Breitling and Prior acknowledged that revenue has fallen short of initial projections – originally estimated by some as $80 million in Nevada and somewhere between $250 million to $1.2 billion in New Jersey in the first year alone. Ultimate Gaming has yet to disclose the true figures, but intends to do so in the next few months, said Breitling.
The Ultimate chairman also explained that some of the challenges Ultimate Poker has faced have been due to the strict constraints of regulation itself, such as the age-verification process, which forces users to navigate through a far more tortuous sign-up maze than had been used when playing on unregulated sites. It’s a necessary price to pay if online poker is to receive the trust of the public and politicians, of course, and something that can be improved with some technological tweaks. However, in the short term, said Breitling, it has put people off.
“We had incorporated way too many clicks in this process, and so people who had played online poker in the past never had to go through this detailed process filled with all these extra clicks,” Breitling said. “Some people are taking a wait-and-see attitude about playing online games.”
Prior spoke of the “huge challenges” in technology that lay ahead, particularly in the area of payment processing; for instance, Visa still denies online gaming transactions, even where it’s legal. There’s also the need to keep tabs on players, ensuring they’re located within a legal-to-play state, essentially creating a technological buffer zone around state borders. The pair revealed they found Nevada far easier to control in this respect with its relatively low outlying population zones, because in New Jersey more people live directly around the state line.
While acknowledging the need to improve, the pair were full of praise for their current technology, which, they said, had been tweaked for three months before launch, and later was subjected to three months of field research which generated the equivalent of 700,000 pages of documents. Underage gambling was simply not an issue, they said.
“Our online games are far better protected than those in a land-based environment,” said Prior, perhaps in a final, well-aimed swipe at his many adversaries.
Hopefully, parent company Station Casinos – which has numerous land properties around Southern Nevada – didn’t hear that one.