Ultimate Gaming has officially pulled out of the New Jersey market and while some are viewing this as a black eye to the industry, was their departure unexpected?
After all, the site was at a disadvantage in both brand identity and with the partner they chose in New Jersey. We can applaud their valiant effort to expand to the Garden State, but it may have been an ambitious move that should have waited until the company was more established.
Too Much Competition and Too Little Experience to Become Viable
One cannot blame Ultimate Gaming for wanting a foothold in Atlantic City. They enjoy the successful operation of online poker in Nevada and believed it was possible to replicate that same success in New Jersey.
Unfortunately, there were just too many sites operating in the state and they had to compete against three powerhouses in the online gambling world. Borgata chose bwin.Party to supply the backend for their site. In addition, PartyPoker chose to provide a standalone site that shared player pools with BorgataPoker.
WSOP.com chose 888 Holdings to provide their backend. 888 also decided to run a separate, truly standalone site —888Poker. WSOP.com by itself has proven to be more than a match for the combined pools of BorgataPoker and PartyPoker NJ. The All-American Poker Network is still a solid #3 in the state for online poker.
Despite not running an online poker room, Tropicana has pulled in over $14 million this year in table game revenues. That’s three time’s Ultimate Gaming’s total earnings in 2014. Tropicana partnered with Euro gambling leader Gamesys Limited for their site and have been one of the big surprises in NJ iGaming.
The big three in New Jersey iGaming run over half of the state’s eight iGaming sites. Their experience in the industry coupled with contracts with the largest casinos in the state resulted in their claiming the lion’s share of the market. Had the big three been the only experienced operators in the state, Ultimate Gaming may have had a chance. Unfortunately, even the smaller sites were run by experienced companies.
Golden Nugget partnered with Bally Technologies and Trump Plaza with Betfair, both companies having far more experience in the iGaming industry than Ultimate Gaming. Despite throwing a lot of money at advertising and running some clever promotions, Ultimate Gaming just didn’t have the branding or the experienced needed to be successful in a state with eight iGaming sites. It was a brave endeavor, but perhaps one that they undertook too soon.
Lesniak Announcement Was Likely Death Knell, Not Bankruptcy
According to reports, the Taj hadn’t paid Ultimate Poker in months and they are owed $1.5 million. In addition, the site was forced to do all of their own promotion because they were unable to get a deal in place with the property on advertising.
Essentially, the site was operating as an independent entity. As such, did it really matter that the Taj was going into bankruptcy? Why not just try and continue with their license as Betfair did?
Enter Senator Lesniak. He made claims last week that PokerStars was a matter of “weeks, not months” away from being approved for a license. That revelation changed the timeframe of PokerStars setting up shop from sometime in 2015 to possibly as soon as Thanksgiving.
Ultimate Gaming was already dead last in the state for revenue and barely making a dent with their poker room. PokerStars likely would have killed a large percentage of the poker traffic and made them about as relevant as Betfair. Odds are that the table game revenue would follow.
It’s not a slam-dunk that the Taj will shut down in November, so the bankruptcy was a convenient excuse. Getting out of Dodge before PokerStars cuts further into their earnings would make more sense.
Ultimate Gaming May Be Perfect for Smaller Markets
One of the reasons behind the success of Ultimate Poker in Nevada is the fact that until recently, they were 50% of the industry. While WSOP.com is the industry leader in Nevada, Ultimate Poker is not far behind.
As states begin to look at online poker in the near future, Ultimate Poker may want to start marketing themselves to some of the smaller market clients looking for a solid poker client or in states where a limited number of providers will be used.
For example, states such as West Virginia and Rhode Island are going to have a limited number of sites. These smaller markets would be excellent targets for the company as they will have a larger chunk of the total market share.
Ultimate Poker should also start marketing their brand as a U.S. brand. They didn’t “return to the U.S.” following Black Friday and are a company made by Americans for the American poker market. Why worry about whether a company broke the law post-2006 when you have a company that has only operated in a legalized American poker marketplace? “Made in the USA” may seem like a cliché for branding, but it may put them over the top in some more “patriotic” states.
Ultimate Gaming will have a place in the legalized U.S. market. However, its growth will have to be slow as they continue to build their brand. With the right strategy, they can be a solid contender in the future.