Online Poker Is Back (if You're in Nevada)

Photograph by Andrew Boyd

It’s a moment many American poker devotees have been waiting for: the return of online poker.

Las Vegas-based Ultimate Poker opened its (virtual) doors on Tuesday at 9 a.m. West Coast time to deal the first hand of legal, real money, online poker. The site, owned by Ultimate Gaming, will accept wagers only from players who are at least 21 and and physically located in Nevada. Though you need not be a resident of the state, you have to be inside its borders to play. According to the Associated Press, players must provide a Social Security number and Nevada address.

Online poker came to an abrupt halt on April 15, 2011—a day known in the industry as Black Friday—when the US. Department of Justice cracked down on the three biggest sites, shutting them down and freezing player accounts. Some players have continued to play illegally, risking that their money might be seized at any moment.

This won’t be an issue in Nevada any more. “Players won’t have to worry if their money is safe,” Ultimate Gaming Chief Executive Officer Tobin Prior told the AP. “They are going to be able to play with people they can trust and know the highest regulatory standards have been applied.”

Internet gaming has in fact been legal in Nevada, as well as in Delaware and New Jersey, for some months, but it has taken a while for states and companies to get their ducks in a row and actually make legal sites accessible to players. Online poker may be available in Delaware and New Jersey before the end of the year, according to Jennifer Webb, an analyst for Gambling Compliance.

Ultimate Poker will make history by offering the first hand of legal online poker in the country. The Las Vegas website is owned by Frank and Lorenzo Fertitta, brothers who inherited their father’s Station Casinos company and also own shares in Ultimate Fighting Championship.

Additional casinos are fine-tuning internet poker offerings and racing to get in on the game. According to Bloomberg News, the online gambling industry—already a multibillion dollar business overseas—is forecast to reach $7.4 billion in the U.S. by 2017.

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