- Bernard Lee, ESPN Staff Writer
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It's been just over two years since the poker world was rocked by "Black Friday" on April 15, 2011. After the Department of Justice indicted 11 key players in relation to the three major online poker sites, the online poker industry in the United States went essentially dormant. Some professional players chose to relocate overseas to poker friendly countries such as Canada, Mexico and European nations. Others decided to play exclusively live poker. Some even took a well-deserved break.
The tides began to change on Tuesday as online poker officially returned to the United States ... well, at least Nevada. At 9:00 a.m. PT, UltimatePoker.com made history by becoming the first Nevada based online poker company to launch a legal real-money online poker site.
"We are proud to be the first company to deliver legal and secure real-money online gaming to poker players," said Ultimate Poker Chairman Tom Breitling. "We have worked closely with state gaming regulators to demonstrate our unique and compelling poker platform that, above all, players know they can trust. Ultimate Poker is dedicated to being the players' choice for online poker."
"This day has been a long time coming. Online poker in the United States is finally here and totally legit," remarked brand ambassador Antonio Esfandiari.
With this launch, there is finally a glimmer of hope for the U.S. poker player.
"Before Black Friday, 90 percent of my time was spent playing online poker, that's where I made my living," said 2012 October Niner Jeremy Ausmus. "And ever since Black Friday, I became a live grinder ... so, I'm pretty excited about it. It's an exciting development and a step in the right direction. ... If the games are available, I will stay home more and will enjoy the convenience and efficiency of online poker."
Availability is the key question thus far. As the legal online poker market develops, building a substantial player pool is essential.
"I'm cautiously optimistic, but excited after not being able to play online poker for two years," said Eric Baldwin. "I will definitely be playing at some point, if nothing else to have fun and experience playing online poker again. On days where there is not a great live option in Las Vegas, it will be nice change of pace to be able to play online at home."
As the games launched, the early offerings at Ultimate Poker showed limited stakes, a concern for many.
"Based on the population of Nevada, which is about three million residents, this number is just a drop in the bucket compared to the entire world. I'm concerned that the games will not be big enough for it to be a viable option for professional poker players to make a living," described Baldwin.
"I think it is a step in the right direction and, if the stakes are high enough, it could interest me," 2011 WSOP Player of the Year and bracelet winner, Ben Lamb. "With such a small player field in Nevada, it will be many years before we see the fields like we did before Black Friday."
There's no question that the player pool is the issue, but in the next few months, that may not be such a problem. Anyone within the state's borders can play and with the WSOP coming later this month, the field sizes could dramatically increase during that time.
As a non-Nevada resident myself, I'm looking forward to being able to play this summer during the WSOP. Other players are excited about this launch as well.
Recent WSOP Circuit Council Bluffs main event champion, Blair "blur5f6" Hinkle, a resident of Kansas City, Missouri, was the only player ever to win over $1 million in a single event on Full Tilt. He's excited about the recent developments and plans to give the Nevada sites a try in a few weeks.
"I am going to be mostly focusing on my WSOP events, but it will be cool because on my days off, I may test out the site," said Hinkle. "It will be a nice option to have on your days off if you feel like still playing poker. It will be nice and convenient. Overall, this is great news for the poker community."
There is now some hope that this development will lead New Jersey and Delaware to expedite the release of their offerings which are expected later this year. Additionally, other states may follow, eventually leading to a national regulation of online poker.
For now, U.S. poker players, you can begin to come out of hibernation. Welcome back.
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