Chuck Blount: PurePlay offers customers risk-free, completely legal poker option

San Antonio Express-News

Web Posted: 03/12/2008 08:54 PM CDT

Before the arrival of Jason Kellerman, the online poker world didn't exactly have a multitude of options.

Players could download the software and play the free games on the .net Web sites, or take a stab in the .com real money raked games against fellow human competitors.

Each can possess their shortcomings.

The free poker games play more like an arcade game than a contest of skill. Folding doesn't enter the mind when there's no financial risk to see a flop.

And the real money games can get scary and complicated. It's legal to play online (illegal to operate), but the U.S. government makes it very difficult to deposit money into an account, and many people aren't comfortable providing the necessary information needed to do so.

As CEO of PurePlay.com, Kellerman created a third option, and in the process managed to establish what is now the only U.S. compliant poker site in the country where players can win real money.

"In 2004, it was estimated there was between 30 and 40 million online players, but only three to four million (real money) players," Kellerman said. "We wanted to target the players that were in it just for fun, and give them the opportunity to play for real money."

PurePlay is different from conventional poker sites, because there is no conceivable way for a player to go broke. Instead of worrying about constant funding to an account, players pay a monthly subscription fee of $19.99 to use the site.

If that number seems off-putting, consider the money players spend in the raked games. It's common for players to pay as much as $2 on one hand in a cash game, and every tournament requires an up-front charge that can average 10 percent of the entry fee. Veteran .com players can eat $20 with ease in rake in one night.

Subscription players gain access to an endless offering of multitable and single-table tournaments where players can win real money. Players are able to enter more prestigious tournaments — including a new series where PurePlay is giving away seats to the Main Event of the World Series of Poker — as they accrue player points on the site.

The points are the currency, and the more you have, the more money available to win. This is what creates a level of competition at PurePlay that separates it from the chaos of the free .net sites. But if you do lose them all, there is nothing to fear. The software reloads the broke account the next day with fresh points.

"On average, our players are putting in over 10 hours per week on the site," Kellerman said. "We are providing a lot of entertainment."

Kellerman estimates that PurePlay gives away over $150,000 per month and eclipsed $3 million in cash prizes this year. The top-100 players on the site are ranked, and the No. 1 player — aka "MasterDan" — has earned more than $20,000.

The subscription model is what makes PurePlay legal. Before launching the site in 2003, Kellerman went through the existing laws in every state to see where his company could offer its services.

Every state didn't give PurePlay the green light (Texas included), but 34 did. For the states that failed to legalize the business, PurePlay offers up a free account system where players can play for approximately $25,000 monthly in cash prizes.

"We take out the financial risk element, and this allows us to comply with the regulations," Kellerman said. "The laws are always changing and we hope over time that we'll be able to get every state on board, but we still offer everybody in the U.S. a shot at some money. At the end of the day, this is not a gambling site."

The laws do keep PurePlay from offering ring game poker. Kellerman said his company made an extensive attempt at figuring out how to offer it with its business model, but was unable to come up with a legal solution.

Got a poker question or comment? E-mail Chuck at cblount@express-news.net

Portions © 2008 KENS 5 and the San Antonio Express-News. All rights reserved