Draw for the Button Affair Shines the Light on Nevada iGaming Policies

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A few weeks back the hot topic on Internet poker forums was a brief encounter between Ultimate Poker site pro William Reynolds and another high-stakes player on the site who uses the handle “Money Beets.”

According to “Money Beets,” Reynolds made an off the cuff comment that may have killed “Money Beets” action in the chat box, and then purposefully abused the site’s controversial “Draw for the Button” policy in a heads-up match against him.

Here is what really happened, and what the root causes of the problem are.

What really happened between Reynolds and Money Beets

When I first saw this “scandal” appear on the Internet forums I knew there had to be a bit more to the story than what “Money Beets” was offering up.

The idea that the story originally told by “Money Beets” was the whole story is hard to take at face value.

That a known site pro would so blatantly angle-shoot another player in what amounts to a small stakes game seems highly unlikely. And I was right.

Reynolds quickly admitted that he had crossed the line in the chat and that he was not angle-shooting but was essentially needling “Money Beets” with the help of Ultimate Poker’s “Draw for the Button” policy.

To paraphrase Reynolds, he was goofing around, a claim he then provided very convincing evidence to back up with chat logs.

Here is William Reynolds’ apology:

“As a sponsored pro I should be held to a high standard of conduct and ethics. It’s my duty to make sure fair and responsible game play takes place on Ultimate Poker.

Although it was not my intent to gain an unfair advantage over my opponent, I understand how my conduct was detrimental to the game. This was unacceptable behavior. I apologize for wasting your time Money Beets.

I realize you just want to play poker with out [sic] any unnecessary side distractions. It is my job to promote action in a positive playing environment. I failed you on December 18th. I’m sorry for causing you any grief.”

So, we didn’t have a scandal on our hands, and the online poker forums have already moved on to the next big thing.

Reynolds’ actions may have been ill-advised, but in the grand scheme of things they shouldn’t even register. His personality and candor make Reynolds one of the better spokesmen for the game, in my opinion.

I would describe what Reynolds did as the online version of a slowroll, and the whole affair seems to be much ado about nothing, with one tilted player tilting another.

But, goofing around or not, the situation has shined the spotlight on Ultimate Poker’s policy, as well as the sluggish process Nevada regulators have put in place in order for the state’s online poker sites to make the most mundane changes.

I asked Ultimate Poker’s Chief Marketing Officer, Joe Versaci, precisely this question; if UP had plans to change or “fix” the “Draw for the Button” policy, and this is what he had to say:

“Yes, like many other sites when they started Ultimate Poker will be correcting this issue with a future update. We have had a lifetime ban issued to a player that didn’t stop after a warning. It’s an issue but not a major issue for 99.9% of our players.”

Why does Ultimate Poker have to be different?

One thing you have to tip your cap to Ultimate Poker for is its willingness to innovate.

While every other online poker provider is simply transplanting their existing software and policies into the US market, Ultimate Poker is actually experimenting with the status quo with ideas like “Draw for the Button.”

“Draw for the Button” isn’t the only “original” policy in place at UP.

The site also uses a “Winner Take All” rake method, which was created by Ultimate Poker, and while every other licensed online poker room in the US (Nevada, Delaware, and New Jersey) is being run by an experienced online provider, Ultimate Poker decided to create their own software from the ground up and do everything themselves.

So, kudos to UP for trying to take online poker in a new direction, but as they are discovering, pushing the envelope does come with certain risks.

Just like the short-lived XFL found out, innovations often lead to unforeseen problems, such as people getting injured racing for the football instead of flipping a coin to decide possession, or what could and couldn’t appear on a player’s jersey.

What may seem like little more than cool, harmless, exclusive features can often open a whole new can of worms.

For instance, Joe Versaci explained the reasoning behind the “Winner Take All” rake method this way:

“Winner Take All seemed like the fairest way to compensate our players. In a ring game the winner of the pot is the person that paid the rake, an easy way to think about it is if we had rake free tables. Who would benefit the most from these tables?”

But serious poker players don’t see it that way.

Serious players see the method as a way to reward players who play a lot of hands (and therefore win more pots) and suppress rakeback to the high-volume grinders who are more selective. By choosing “Winner Take All” over a more conventional method UP opened up their flank to criticism.

This is an issue I feel has plagued Ultimate Poker in its brief existence.

Their desire to set themselves apart has left them with a handful of problems that their competition doesn’t have to deal with.

In the end they may very well be the trendsetter. Perhaps all online sites will move to the “Winner Take All” rakeback method.

But for now, Ultimate Poker seems to be causing more problems than they are solving, as evidenced by the William Reynolds affair.

Again, it’s nice to see a site trying to innovate, but this will also require some thick skin from UP as they go through what should be expected growing pains.

Changes in Nevada take far too long

The “Draw for the Button” problem, or more precisely the fact that it hasn’t been fixed yet, isn’t solely the fault of Ultimate Poker.

A lot of the blame lands at the feet of Nevada regulators, who have adopted a review process that for even modest changes is so slow it would be Allen Kessler approved.

I asked Joe Versaci about this as well. His response:

“Anytime we make a change to the code it must be submitted to state to be tested and approved before we go live. This range varies depending on how complicated the update will be. The only exception to this is for emergency changes that have been agreed by the Regulator to warrant immediate release.”

In addition to the tedious process just to make a modest change, we’ve also seen Nevada’s lethargy in allowing sites to launch.

And even after New Jersey basically showed them how easy it is (relatively speaking), Nevada still has only two online poker operators.

It would appear, at least to me, that Nevada regulators are the ones gumming up the works, which has allowed UP’s somewhat trivial software problems to continue, and New Jersey to quickly trump Nevada as the poster state for online poker.

- Steve covers nearly every angle of online poker in his job as a full-time freelance poker writer. His primary focus for OPR is the developing legal and legislative picture for regulated US online poker and gambling.
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