AVP Weekly: Ultimate signs Esfandiari, Zynga launches real-money gaming, BOOM!'s release date plus more news

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Author Jennifer Newell's poker week in review for April 1-7: Ultimate signs Antonio Esfandiari, Zynga launches real-money gaming, more states ban iGaming, changes in tribal online gaming, poker site closures, and "BOOM!" documentary sets release date of June 2013.

Poker to the Point: Week ending April 7

Our consolidation of the week's news is quick and to the point -- seven stories, to be exact. Let's go.

#1 - Big Gaming Pro Signings

The Las Vegas-based Ultimate Poker announced the signing of its first brand ambassador with Antonio Esfandiari. The professional poker player is the highest-earning live tournament player in the world, and he is also known for commentating on poker broadcasts like ESPN's World Series of Poker. Esfandiari is the first pro signed to a legal Nevada online poker company. Ultimate Poker is owned by Station Casinos and operates alongside the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), and it is expected to launch online poker for Nevada residents upon technology approval from state testing laboratories.

PokerStars announced a new member of its Team PokerStars SportStars. Retired Brazilian football (soccer) player Ronaldo Nazario was signed to be a representative for PokerStars in the Latin American market. Nazario is one of football's most recognized players, holding numerous awards and often voted greatest striker in football. Ronaldo will play online poker and live tournaments, such as the Latin American Poker Tour event coming up in Brazil later in April. He joins other sports stars like Boris Becker and Rafael Nadal on the online poker site's team.

#2 - Zynga Launches Real-Money Gaming

Known for its play-money games on Facebook and other social media sites, Zynga took a big step last week in the launch of its real-money games in the United Kingdom. ZyngaPlusPoker and ZyngaPlusCasino were made available to players, courtesy of the partnership with bwin.party, which created the platform for the real-money games. Players were able to download the client without having to access through Facebook, though offerings will come to Facebook and mobile customers later in the year with a continued rollout of new offerings.

Zynga's stock rose substantially on the news of the UK launch, though the company faces obstacles with its efforts to gain ground in the United States market. In states like New Jersey, land-based casinos will have an edge in obtaining licenses and garnering customers, but Zynga is awaiting status on applications and the opportunity to compete alongside companies like Caesars Entertainment.

#3 - More States Take Steps to Ban iGaming

Florida isn't attacking online gambling outright, but a bill to address recent scandals involving Internet café could have the effect of banning all Internet gaming activities. The Florida House passed the anti-Internet café bill last week by a solid 108-7 vote, then passed the Senate by a vote of 36-4. The language of the bill addresses café, but the language could be interpreted as a ban on all electronic gaming, causing the online poker community to worry. Governor Rick Scott is currently reviewing the language before signing to ensure that he agrees with the bill that was put together and pushed through the legislature so quickly.

Kansas sought to specifically ban online gambling, making it a misdemeanor crime, in the wake of its legalization in other states. However, the State Senate did vote down House Bill 2055 by a 24-15 margin. The bill was part of a larger effort regarding a state-owned casino, as well as to remove authorization for racetrack gaming facilities. There is no word if the sponsor will try to introduce the bill again.

#4 - Changes in Tribal Online Gaming

Native American tribes have been wary of online gaming for some time but will be gathering to discuss it soon. Pechanga.net is hosting its first iGaming conference for Indian tribes in June in Temecula, California, at the Pechanga Resort. In addition, a tribal lobbyist let it be known that many tribes across the United States are seeking to develop Internet coalitions in order to address the issue of iGaming, especially in the face of legalized gaming in states like Nevada, New Jersey, and Delaware.

Oklahoma reached an agreement with its Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes last week to remove their Internet gambling site. Per the tribal gaming compact with the state and the Governor's interpretation of it, the tribes are allowed to run such a site only from outside of the United States and pay fees to the state of Oklahoma. The Concho-based tribe has been running the iGaming site for several months but agreed to take it down.

GEObet Online Network announced an extension of a deal with Nevada's Winnemucca Indian Colony for iGaming solutions. The tribe plans to launch an online casino in May 2013, and GEObet will provide assistance for the Western Shoshone Nation tribe. The online gambling site will offer real-money games but exclude players from the United States.

New Mexico also made the news with negotiations between the state and Navajo Nation for their new tribal compact. Reports indicate that the compact will ban all forms of Internet gambling that are not operated by the tribe itself, though any negative impact on future casino revenue could be the basis for arbitration in the matter. The deal could also ban interstate compacts with states like Nevada for engaging in partnered iGaming deals.

#5 - Study Shows iGaming Growth

A recent study commissioned by Odobo and reported by H2 Gambling Capital showed that real-money online gambling is a $30 billion international industry. The "Opportunities for Game Developers in Regulated Real-Money Online Gambling" report predicted that the United States could make up nearly 30 percent of the global market by 2017. Currently, Europe and the United Kingdom comprise 54 percent of the market, which for the purposes of this study, excludes lottery and skill-based games.

#6 - Site Folds, Site Launches

PokerView, which was part of the Merge Gaming Network, closed its virtual doors last week after being in operation since 2011. Another Merge skin will accept the player base. PokerView told players that their funds were safe, and they could create new accounts at Sportsbook.com, PlayersOnly, or Carbon Poker and request a transfer of funds.

Meanwhile, in Africa, the Intellogix Network launched Pokafrica.com. The online poker site will target the African market and will donate five percent of its profits to an African charity. The donations will go to build a new school through a partnership with Madagascar and the Island of Saint Marie. Pokafrica.com will also run satellites for the International Stadiums Poker Tour and World Poker Tour satellites.

#7 - Online Poker Documentary Sets Release Date

Formerly known as "BOOM!", an online poker documentary released its movie trailer and is preparing for a June 2013 release. Now called "Bet Raise Fold: The Story of Online Poker," the film boasts of executive production by Taylor Caby and production by Jay Rosenkrantz. The story of online poker will feature interviews of many well-known poker players, but it will focus on three players who made their livings pre-Black Friday through online poker. The story takes viewers from 2003 to 2013 in the world of poker.

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  1. I think it's interesting that Antonio Esfandiari routinely gets touted as "highest-earning live tournament player in the world," because he won the One Drop for $18 million. And the reason I wonder this is because with staking arrangements being so common, how do we really know how much anyone really won at at tournament?

    To be clear, I don't want/need to actually know. It's none of my business how much someone else actually makes. And I understand also that probably means that the actual price pool payouts are the only quantifiable measure otherwise. I just don't see "highest-earning" as the most accurate phraseology. Maybe something along the lines of "player with the most tournament winnings," or something similar, because that would be accurate; once a player gets his or her winnings, what they do with them is their business, but the initial full payout goes to them.

    Then again, Antonio might actually have both titles: "highest-earning" and "player with the most tournament winnings." Who am I to say for sure?

  2. He gets touted as such purely for marketing reasons.