Phoenix, New Jersey: Inside the re-launch of PokerStars in the USA
You might have thought that it would look more impressive when it actually happened. About 90 minutes ago, at 12:01am on Monday, March 21st, 2016, PokerStars officially became a regulated online gaming operator in the Garden State of New Jersey. Perhaps you'd have imagined handfuls, maybe dozens, of NJ Department of Gaming Enforcement (DGE) officials, Resorts Atlantic City executives, and PokerStars bigwigs standing around, leaning over monitors, anticipating the big moment.
In fact, it looked like this at 12:01am:
In the interest of full transparency, I note that every single person in the room, except me, is in this photo.
See, like any good project, by the time it came to "push the button", "throw the switch", or any key activation, the heavy lifting had been done long before. Hundreds of people throughout PokerStars (and Resorts and the DGE) had put in absurdly long days and weeks. Software was modified and tested. Deposit methods were auditioned, rejected, reviewed, improved, and ultimately accepted. Reports were created, run, modified, verified, tweaked, and run again. Geolocation was tested. Re-tested. And tested again.
Then on Wednesday, March 16th, we opened for "soft launch" - an opportunity for up to 500 people to play on the site. So after all that preparation, all that planning, all that testing, everything worked perfectly, right? Hint: if you answered "Yes", then you've never worked on any meaningful software or retail service project. Of course there were problems, glitches, mistakes, and bugs.
But as they'd done for the past years, the people on the project simply solved the problems, tracked down the glitches, corrected the mistakes, and fixed the bugs. One bug at a time, one customer issue at a time. I saw a handful of emails - no doubt a tiny fraction of the total - where "Issue #217" was marked "Fixed".
And all that was for one reason: so that when our friends in New Jersey - old veterans and new acquaintances - logged in, they would say, "Oh man - it's good to see PokerStars here." And so they have. The response, both online and at our meet-and-greet events, has been positive and heartwarming. The New Jersey poker community seems as happy to see us as we are to be back; we will continue to work hard every day to justify that warm welcome.
So now, the literal dawn is coming to New Jersey in a few hours, but the figurative one is here. PokerStars is back in the U.S. for real money poker for the first time in five years. It took a lot of work, a lot of patience, but we're here and ready to deal the cards.
But before you put the blinds up, let me show you what it looks like in the PokerStars office at the Resorts Hotel and Casino in Atlantic City right now. After all, these people have been working non-stop for quite a while now. Skipping meals, getting too little sleep, and being away from their families. They deserve a rest.
Lee Jones is a poker evangelist for PokerStars. He first joined the company in 2003 and has been part of the professional poker world for over 25 years. You can read his occasional Twitter-bites at @leehjones