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Ultimate Poker Closes Down Amid Claims of Mismanagement [UPDATED]


(If Dana White’s haggard visage couldn’t get this thing over, nothing could.)

By Mike Fagan

On Friday, the Fertitta-owned Ultimate Poker announced that it would cease accepting wagers effective Monday, November 17, at noon PST. The closure comes after just under 19 months of operation.

Ultimate Poker seemed like a good bet at the start. The online poker world collapsed following a series of legislative and judicial moves, starting with the Unlawful Internet Gaming Enforcement Act of 2006 and ending with poker’s “Black Friday” on April 15, 2011. Two years later, Nevada passed legislation legalizing online poker within the state. Ultimate Poker rushed their product to market two months later, becoming the first “legal” online poker room in the United States.

A thread on leading poker/gambling forum Two Plus Two discussing Ultimate Poker’s demise details some of the problems with the site. The poker client software had bugs from day one and looked like it had been designed in the ‘90s. When old bugs had been fixed, new bugs popped up. Players often found themselves disconnected from the site during hands. In addition, Ultimate Poker never developed a client for Macs nor a mobile version of their software.

Caesars-backed WSOP.com and South Point Casino’s Real Gaming later joined Ultimate Poker. This crowded the market given a limited player pool in Nevada. (Ultimate Poker also ran in New Jersey between July 2013 and September of this year.) The Las Vegas Review-Journal, citing numbers from PokerScout.com, notes that Ultimate Poker “averaged just 60 players in one sitting much of the time over the past two weeks.” Suffice to say, you can’t operate an online card room with 60 players.

More damning evidence of Ultimate Poker’s demise came from a video made by former Director of Player Operations (and one-time pro MMA fighter) Terrence Chan. In the video, which features an anecdote about Dana White being brought in to give an inspirational speech, Chan discusses the software issues (which executives never prioritized improving) to the tight market, but also reveals a few anecdotes that shed some light into the internal operations of the company.

“There’s a legend about one of these executives sitting through a meeting,” Chan says, noting that he was not present at said meeting. “They were showing him the new unveiling of the redesigned website for the casino in New Jersey. And they had to explain things to him like what a navbar is or what Flash is, and that kind of stuff.  So there’s this really lengthy walkthrough of this new website redesign. At the end of it, he sits there and he comments, ‘I think the logo needs more purple.’”

This spoke to the broader culture at the top of the Ultimate Poker food chain. (Emphasis mine.)

“I think there was a lot of application of the old-school brick-and-mortar model to this new internet business, and I think that was a bit anachronistic. I’m talking about everything here: poker room promotions, casino promotions, advertising, social media, branding. Literally everything was influenced – to say the least – by Station Casinos and the top brass there who had an old school approach.”

Chan’s description of company culture may sound familiar to MMA fans and fighters alike: “There was a lot of leadership through fear and authority and ‘this is how it’s going to be.’ … In the end there was very little dissent.”

Despite the obstacles of regulation and a competitive market, Chan believes that Ultimate Poker could have been a great company, but that the internal operations of the company – not letting “poker people” run the operation, paying consultants exorbitant amounts of money instead of investing in talented people within the company, etc. – ultimately led to its downfall. The UFC owes its success both to the work done by people within the company and a whole lot of luck, but one wonders if the top-down approach that killed Ultimate Poker might bring down the largest fight promotion on the planet.

UPDATE: Terrence Chan wrote us yesterday evening with his response to this article…

“I want to clarify that I think multiple people share some amount of culpability in the closure of Ultimate Gaming. Ultimate Poker/Ultimate Casino was the product of the work of many people, myself included. I want to just say that if there are “claims of mismanagement” as the headline of this article indicates, that I too was a member of that management, along with many of my co-workers, many of whom remain my friends. To be sure, while many of us were frustrated by the management style, we **all** share culpability. I personally could have stood up for more of the things that I truly believed were important to the success of the company, but in many ways I capitulated to the game of corporate politics as well.

Every company and every person in every company makes mistakes at times. Unfortunately, the margin for error was too thin in our case.”

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