Nevada, a state of just 2.8 million people, attracts 52 million visitors a year— more than the population of California. But who wants to go on vacation just to fire up their laptop and play some virtual cards?
"I think the real excitement will be when we get a very populous state like a California or a New York allowing these companies to expand," ITG casino analyst Matthew Jacob said. "But these changes often take longer to occur than people assume. It requires a change in law and then it takes a while from when the law passes until the sites are up and running."
Prior says he intends to make Ultimate Poker profitable within a matter of years, in part through cross-promotion with mixed martial arts giant Ultimate Fighting Championship. Both companies are owned by brothers Frank and Lorenzo Fertitta, who also control Station Casinos Inc., a chain that caters to locals in Las Vegas.
The Ultimate Poker logo has enjoyed prime placement in the UFC fight octagon for months. The Ultimate Poker Facebook page, which steers fans to a zero-stakes version of the site, features a mix of UFC glamour shots and stock images of guys in hoodies staring into laptop screens.
"When you look at the demographic of the UFC fan and the online poker player, it's almost a perfect overlap," Breitling said.
In the coming months, Ultimate Gaming will have to prove that its technology and 111 employees can prevent minors and out-of-state players from wagering real dollars, and guard against money laundering. The site will use several factors to track location, including the virtual customer's mobile phone and their IP addresses, the strings of numbers that identify computers on the Internet, according to chief technology officer Chris Derossi.
It will also have to pay 6.75 percent of its revenue in Nevada state taxes.
It's unclear how much of a boon the new market will be to the cash-strapped state. In 2012, the Pew Center on the States analyzed 13 states that had recently legalized new types of gambling, and found that more than two-thirds of "failed to live up to the initial promises or projections."
The gambling industry is hoping the return of Internet poker will revitalize interest in the game and help brick and mortar casinos capture a younger market.
The rise of Internet poker is generally credited with helping spark the poker fad of the last decade. The end of online gambling is thought to have helped quash interest in the game.
In the coming months, the industry will be watching closely to see if poker players come flocking back from their new hobbies, replacement computer games and illegal offshore gambling sites.
"This is a really huge moment for our company, the state of Nevada and the gaming community," Breitling said. "We're hoping to make poker fun again."
Hannah Dreier can be reached at http://twitter.com/hannahdreier .