Merge Gaming became the number one U.S. friendly network overnight after the Black Friday indictments were unsealed against PokerStars, Full Tilt Poker and Absolute Poker. A series of gaffes and disagreements have brought Merge Gaming to number three in the ranks of U.S. friendly online poker networks.
What Got Them to this Point?
Merge Gaming was overwhelmed by its growth in April and May of 2011. The network had to stop accepting new U.S. players on June 1, 2011. Traffic declined after this move. They reopened their doors to most U.S. players in Oct 2011 and got most of that traffic back.
There was an ongoing dispute with Lock Poker, one of its biggest skins. Lock Poker was offering deals that violated network rakeback rules. This was causing problems among several skins. Lock Poker had enough of the infighting and decided to buy the Cake Poker Network. Lock Poker moved their players to this platform there on June 1, 2012. The new network was named Revolution Gaming. This removed about 30% of the network traffic overnight.
The new liquidity on Revolution Gaming moved it quickly to the number one spot in terms of U.S. cash game traffic. The Bodog Network, anchored by its U.S. facing brand Bovada, moved into the number two spot when football season started. Merge slipped down to the third spot but was still competitive.
Another issue hit the Merge Gaming Network in October 2012. Carbon Poker, along with sister skins PDC Poker and Aced, created a partnership with Jazette Enterprises. Jazette is the parent company of several U.S. facing sports books including Sportsbook.ag and PlayersOnly. This partnership included moving players to the Jazette cashier. That banking system is based in Antigua where player to player transfers are not allowed by law. The network decided to ban player to player transfers across the network for all skins on November 1, 2012.
This caused waves among players. Many players on Merge Gaming are staked by their coaches or other sponsors. These players would no longer be able to make transfers. Other players used player to player transfers to help them cashout faster by making trades. Not only were these players affected, some players made full time income from providing trades with players in the U.S. This market evaporated overnight.
Carbon Poker was the largest skin left using the Merge cashier. There are still several other skins using the cashier though. Some of these skins have made it clear that they are unhappy with the new setup. It has been reported that some of the smaller skins have been made a buyout offer by the network.
News is spreading that Black Chip Poker, a skin that caters to high volume players, is leaving the network. This could be due to the loss of player to player transfers. When asked about the rumor, Black Chip Poker has been quiet.
Merge Gaming has also been lowering tournament guarantees. While this is not necessarily true for its Poker Maximus series, the weekly tournaments are not competitive with Revolution Gaming or Bodog. Something has to give here. I feel that it is becoming obvious that Merge Gaming has become satisfied with just being a small network. That would help them with processing and keep them low on the radar as it pertains to U.S. authorities.
Moving to a sports book platform is not a coincidence either. Regulated U.S. online poker is imminent. Adding sports betting to poker is a natural fit to help keep the Carbon flagship relevant for U.S. players, even if it is at the sacrifice of the rest of the network.
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