Poker site Ujogo seeding market as it works around online gambling ban

John Shinal · December 14, 2007 · Short URL:

Eric Gonzales, co-founder and CEO of poker-playing site Ujogo, has to walk a fine line when it comes to product development. 

On the one hand, Ujogo wants to create a user experience that's more realistic than that offered by hundreds of other free poker sites. The idea is to avoid the boring play of sites where players repeatedly bet all their chips, or go "all in," in Hold'em lingo, because nothing real is at stake.

But while Ujogo wants its poker to be more competitive -- and thus more entertaining and attractive to online players -- it can't offer prize money lest it run afoul of U.S. online gambling laws. 

For now, the company's solution is to host tournaments that award either prizes or points that can be redeemed for prizes.

"We've structured our site to  make it look and feel like a real-money site, but it is not a gambling site because there is no money involved for players," Gonzales tells's Bambi Francisco in this interview.

The legal gray area where Ujogo operates scared off a lot of potential investors, something Gonzales talked about in the other part of this interview, which you can see here

Still, the company has found a growing market. Gonzales told me via e-mail this week that the site has 13,000 registered users. That's up from 5,000 in late September, when this interview was filmed.

A former executive with Cisco Systems and former partner with the VC firm Doll Capital Management,  Gonzales says Ujogo is the only free site that's been endorsed by professional poker players.

The site is also targeting female poker players, which Gonzales says comprises 40% of online players. Toward that end, Ujogo is sponsoring a tournament whose winner will receive a free copy of a book written by pro player Susie Isaacs.

The company, which launched its beta site in July, has raised around $1 million in capital, but it so far has declined to identify its investors.

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