On April 30, Ultimate Gaming chairman Tom Breitling began a candid video blog series on the company’s official YouTube account to mark the first anniversary of regulated real money online poker in the US.
To date, the Lessons Learned series contains a total of four video clips ranging from 2 1/2 minutes to four minutes in length (embedded below). Each video offers a refreshingly honest perspective on the challenges faced, both at Ultimate Poker and its competitors.
For example, the third video in the series, Market Size offers a number of very valid points as to why online poker revenue projections for the US market have not been reached.
Breitling cites Nevada and New Jersey Y1 online poker revenue projections which he claims “pushed [Ultimate Poker] off balance” in its first year of operations.
Placing the blame for the inflated revenue estimates squarely on the shoulders of the prognostications of analysts and reporters, Breitling explains that “the only ones living and breathing the actual business 24 hours a day is us—the operators.”
“Each computer click you ask someone to make during the e-commerce process turns away about 10-20% of those customers” The absence of shared player liquidity and the existence of unlicensed poker sites along with other factors have certainly contributed to the less than stellar numbers, but Breitling puts the majority of the culpability on regulations themselves—a variable that many analysts ignored, he argued.
This brings us to the next segment of the Ultimate Gaming executive’s speech: how regulation has seriously limited the US online poker market size. “When regulations enter the picture, there are complications which cut into the size of the market,” Breitling said.
Citing his experience as a former high-level collaborator at Travelscape.com and Expedia.com, Breitling stated that “each computer click you ask someone to make during the e-commerce process turns away about 10-20% of those customers … people who’d played online poker in the past never had to go through this new, detailed process filled with extra clicks.”
The Ultimate Poker chief went on to compare the role of regulations to airport security to emphasize how extra red tape can easily turn off potential customers.
Again, Breitling is spot-on in his analysis from an online poker operator’s perspective. In fact, it’s somewhat refreshing to see an online gaming head express his thoughts on the topic of government regulations so explicitly.
“Already in third place to the partnership of Borgata/partypoker and the WSOP/888 alliance, Ultimate Poker got absolutely clobbered in April—losing a massive 39% of its share in the market”It is doubtful that mandates such as requiring a Social Security Number and geolocation information will be rolled back, despite the chairman’s claims that the government-created “friction” will be addressed. There has already been one highly publicized case in which those regulations (which include Know Your Customer compliance guidelines) thwarted alleged fraudulent online gaming activity.
In the final part of the video, Breitling compares the regulated US online poker industry to Amazon and Google, insinuating that revenue and traffic numbers could easily rebound in the future. While the comparisons are a bit cliche, it is certainly reasonable to assume that the legalized US online poker market has yet to reach its potential.
The Elephant in the Room
This third installment of Breitling’s video blog was released on the same day as the New Jersey online poker revenue figures for April 2014.
The statistical breakdown showed that online poker income in the state fell 19% on a month-over-month basis, which holds true to seasonal trends that warm weather provokes a slide in online poker activity.
Although the overall New Jersey online poker revenue decline was expected by many in the industry, Ultimate Poker had by far the poorest percentage-based performance among operators in the state.
Already in third place to the partnership of Borgata/partypoker and the WSOP/888 alliance, Ultimate Poker got absolutely clobbered in April—losing a massive 39% of its share in the market compared to March 2014 (3.12% to 1.90%). What’s more, the online poker operator’s monthly revenue stream was more than halved—from $100,289 to $49,252. In comparison, Borgata and partypoker picked up 4.9% in market share for April while WSOP and 888 experienced a 2.8% decline.
Considering Ultimate Poker’s “inaugural” status in the regulated US online poker market, Joe Versaci’s recent resignation as Chief Marketing Officer, as well as its numerous upgrades (to be fair, the site’s latest software improvement was released recently), these facts beg for an explanation.
Being negatively affected by good weather is one thing, but shedding half of your revenue and nearly 40% of your market share in one month is more than concerning. Ultimate Poker’s licensed competitors have had to deal with the exact same faulty Y1 projections and government created friction, but are finding a way to hold on to their previously-earned share of the New Jersey market.
Earlier this month, Jeremy Enke of NJpokeronline.net observed that “UltimatePoker.com is in a nosedive with nobody at the yoke” and that “many in the industry are questioning how much longer Ultimate Poker can go on hemorrhaging players and marketing dollars.”
Those statements are as valid as any Internet video blog talking points available on the topic.
For now, it’s “wait and see” for analysts and reporters alike. However, one thing is nearly certain—there will likely be a high level of scrutiny aimed at Ultimate Poker’s May 2014 performance in the New Jersey online poker market.