The long wait for legal gambling in the United States is coming to a close as Ultimate Poker legally opens its virtual doors to U.S. citizens in the state of Nevada. Poker players, game developers, and publishers have kept a close eye on the rapidly developing legislation surrounding online gambling since the Department of Justice brought its fist down on illegal online gambling operations in 2011. Since that fateful day when players saw a blatant DoJ takeover message pasted on their favorite poker sites’ homepages, online poker enthusiasts have waited patiently for bills to pass through federal and state legislatures. Today’s introduction of legal online poker games re-opens the world that gaming companies such as Party Poker and PokerStars nurtured and developed in the black market.
Ultimate Poker, created by two majority shareholders of the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), officially hosted the first legal online poker game on April 30th, 2013 at 12pm EST, with a prize pool of $1000. Although the site can only legally serve residents of Nevada at this time, the state law includes a loophole allowing other states to grant their own residents the right to gamble on servers hosted in Nevada. The ultimate goal, of course, is federal legalization and regulation, and today’s victory moves the industry one step closer to that day.
In addition to the bevy of game companies already offering legal gambling in other countries, Zynga is a company to watch very closely as the legal environment shapes up in the U.S. The company, famous by taking social games to a new level of success and infamous for its penchant for copycat design, has been positioning itself to dominate the new legal online gambling scene by leveraging the social aspects of its own platform and its presence on popular social networks. Zynga already runs one of the most successful play-money poker games in the U.S., and it has become an expert in soliciting and accepting real-money transaction inside its games. All the company has to do now is flip the real-money switch to create a massively successful gambling platform.
Legal Online Poker – Beyond Just Gaming
Delaware and New Jersey have already legalized online gambling within state borders, although Ultimate Poker in Nevada is the first company to take advantage of the new laws. Similar initiatives are working towards victory in Illinois, Massachusetts, Washington, and California.
Legal online poker means much more than freedom for gamers and game companies, although this is a huge win in many people’s opinion. Legalizing online poker will also mean significant increases in state tax revenue coming from video game companies. Estimates of expected increases in tax income range from $20 million to $2 billion per year. At a time when the video game industry comes under frequent attack for its role in shaping the culture of our nation (see Joe Biden’s meeting with industry heavyweights, for example), it is refreshing to think that video game companies could play a role in alleviating states’ budget shortfalls and helping the economy to stand firmly on two feet at this crucial time in American history.